Kentucky's participation in Clean Cities program paying off

Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu speaks during a press conference after President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chu as energy secretary on Monday, December 15, 2008, in Chicago, Illinois. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu speaks during a press conference after President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chu as energy secretary on Monday, December 15, 2008, in Chicago, Illinois. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/MCT) MCT

In Kentucky and across the country, families and businesses are feeling the impact of rising gas prices. At the same time, the United States is spending about $1 billion a day to import oil — money that we should be investing in American energy and American jobs.

In the coming decades, the price of oil will rise, driven by growing demand from developing countries. In the past, America's policy has been to hit the panic button when prices go up and the snooze button when they go back down. This is not a sustainable solution for our economy or our security. When the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky was asked how he positions himself on the ice, he replied: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it's been." America should do the same and plan for the future.

President Barack Obama is committed to easing the burden of gas prices for Kentucky's families and to putting America back in control of our energy future. As he works to do what he can to ease the immediate pain, he has a long-term plan to reduce oil imports by one-third in a little more than a decade. Instead of relying on others, we'll rely on America's vast clean energy resources and unrivalled leadership in technological innovation. Our "all of the above" approach includes increasing domestic production, diversifying our transportation energy choices and developing more efficient vehicles that will save you money.

For example, we secured an agreement from all the major auto companies to raise the fuel economy of passenger cars and trucks. As a result, new cars will get better gas mileage that will save a typical driver about $3,000. The administration's investments in electric vehicles, advanced biofuels, high-speed rail and public transportation are giving consumers more choices in the vehicles they drive and how they get from place to place.

But meeting the president's goal is not something Washington D.C. can — or should — do alone. Lasting change must happen city by city and state by state. That is why the Department of Energy's Clean Cities program is working with state and municipal governments, small businesses, schools, community organizations and others to reduce the amount of gasoline used to power our vehicles. Using less oil and gasoline is one of the best ways we can help ease the burden of high gas prices on consumers, businesses and local taxpayers.

As one of the leaders of the Clean Cities program, Kentucky is already working to transition its transportation fleets to more fuel-efficient, alternative vehicles. By partnering with the federal government, local businesses, fleet owners, non-profits and others, the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition saved more than 38 million gallons of gasoline from 2005 to 2009.

Kentucky Clean Fuels and the Kentucky Department of Education are working together to place 213 hybrid buses in school districts across the state. Supported by a stimulus grant from the federal government, this initiative includes funding for technical training and educational outreach. Overall, the project is expected to displace 122,000 gallons of petroleum annually.

Mammoth Cave National Park, with support from Kentucky Clean Fuels, became the first national park in the nation to have a fleet powered completely by alternative fuels and technologies. As part of these efforts, the park converted six school buses from gasoline to propane. These buses service almost 175,000 visitors each year. Mammoth Cave is also investing in educational initiatives, increasing awareness among its visitors to the benefits of cleaner, cost-saving fuels.

Nationwide, the Clean Cities program is delivering results in nearly 100 communities. Thousands of buses are being converted from gasoline and diesel to natural gas and home-grown biofuels.

Flex-fuel vehicles and biofuels stations are popping up on highways across the country. Delivery drivers are mapping out their routes to reduce the time spent idling. Thousands of electric vehicles and charging stations are coming onto the roads, and much more.

Since its launch 18 years ago, the Clean Cities program has helped save nearly 3 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel. These public-private partnerships have reduced air pollution, saved money for businesses, schools and local governments, and spurred innovation in the U.S. automotive industry.

Local communities can help lead the way to a stronger and more prosperous energy future. By working together through programs such as the Clean Cities initiative, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and help protect Kentucky families from pain at the pump.