That's the Ticket! From SUV's:to a Cleaner Earth

The Washington Post:, 8/1/2003

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2003; Page C08

Ruth Keeting-White took her Subaru Forester on an unplanned guilt trip yesterday.

Pulling into a parking space on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda, the 59-year-old Columbia resident encountered Chesapeake Climate Action Network director Mike Tidwell, his wife, Catherine Varchaver, and their 6-year-old son, Sasha. The three were among more than 150 activists placing yellow "tickets" on 15,000 sport-utility vehicles in the Washington area, a campaign advocating for more fuel-efficient, cleaner models of the popular trucks.

"I'll never buy another SUV," she told a mildly surprised Tidwell, stepping forward to take the yellow slip of paper. "I used to drive a Honda Civic, which I loved." Rushing to a senior center meeting downtown, she was still explaining: "I just didn't realize when I bought it. . . . I heard all this stuff afterwards."

Although the goal of the ticket campaign was to put pressure on automakers, not drivers, Tidwell said Keeting-White's response was fairly typical. "I have not encountered a single person who was anything other than receptive," he said.

Climatologists point to Washington's large number of SUVs as a key contributor to its Code Red smog alerts in the summer, because such vehicles burn more gas and emit more pollution than most cars.

In bulleted points listed on half of each yellow ticket, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, based in Takoma Park, says that SUVs contribute to global warming by emitting 40 percent more pollution than an average car, and that switching from a car to a 13-miles-per-gallon SUV "wastes more energy than leaving the refrigerator door open for six years." The other half of the ticket was a preprinted postcard addressed to Ford Motor Co. chief William Clay Ford Jr., urging the automaker to keep its promise to introduce a new version of the Ford Escape next year — one with a cleaner, more efficient hybrid electric/combustion engine — and to improve emissions levels in all its SUV models.

"This campaign was inspired by an SUV driver," said Tidwell, 41, of Takoma Park. "My dad . . . says he can't find a hybrid SUV or he would buy it."

Chris Mundy, 41, packing his two children into the back seat of his Lexus LX470, agreed. "If there was a higher-mileage SUV, I would buy it," the Potomac resident said, glancing at his yellow ticket. But it's unlikely he'd switch back to a car: "This can haul a lotta kids," he said.

Among the 29 organizations participating in the campaign were environmental, church and animal-rights groups. "We've got rabbis, people in wheelchairs, doctors from Johns Hopkins doing this," said Tidwell, who organized the effort and hopes it will expand nationwide.

He, Varchaver, a holistic nutritionist, and Sasha worked their way across the parking lot, choosing their battles carefully. "Try and avoid the four-cylinders," Tidwell told his wife, as Sasha wondered aloud exactly which of the lotful of big vehicles were the culprits. As motorists returned to their ticketed cars, Tidwell politely asked their help in improving SUV efficiency, which incidentally would save them money on gas. Most simply nodded and thanked him, seemingly relieved that they hadn't racked up a parking violation.

Tidwell decided not to ticket minivans and pickup trucks — though he said they are often as inefficient and dirty as SUVs — saying that Rome wasn't built in a day. For now, the groups are targeting SUVs, he said, because of their popularity, and because "we feel the overwhelming majority [of SUV drivers] support fuel improvements."

Hustling from one truck to the next in his hiking sandals, spouting statistics on global warming and pollution as he went, Tidwell seemed to know the miles-per-gallon ratings for most of the vehicles he tagged. "There," he said, pausing for a moment. "This is starting to look nicely decorated."

Then, backtracking, he took another look at Keeting-White's Subaru. "We wouldn't have ticketed this," he said. "I think she's wrong — this is a car."


SUV Ticketing Rally
Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington became an 11th hour cosponsor of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's (CCAN) SUV ticketing campaign, along with groups ranging from the Episcopal Dioscese to Code Pink to Temple Emanuel. The event began with a rally and press conference in front of a Ford Dealership in Rockville. Dr. Devra Davis and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, both active in the Jewish environmental world, joined Laura MacCleery of Public Citizen and Mike Tidwell of CCAN in denouncing Detroit's actions.

The theme of the tickets - of which some 15,000 were placed on SUV's or handed to SUV owners in the Baltimore/Washington area last weekend by volunteers - was not chastising SUV drivers, but seeking to enlist them in an effort to get the big automakers to offer more efficient vehicles. Much media attention was received on this campaign, and hopefullyDetroit, along with prospective car/SUV purchasers, got the message that they can "clean up their act."