Senator Takes Hybrid Hummer on a Semi-Wild Ride

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has a knack for puncturing Capitol Hill's bubble of obliviousness. His classics include the spotting of Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) leaving an event that protested high gas prices in an 18-miles-per-gallon car -- for the one-block trip back to her office.

In his latest dispatch, Milbank takes on the hybrid Hummer H3, a new model produced by Raser Technologies of Provo, Utah, that claims to get 100 miles to a gallon of gas. Raser's home-state senator, Orrin Hatch (R), climbed behind the wheel of one of the monstrous "green" vehicles yesterday, with less-than-stellar results:

Orrin_Hatch_1.jpgSen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had fun with a hybrid Hummer. (Photo: UPI)

With a whine and a lurch, the Hummer began to accelerate, and for a few terrifying moments, Hatch was in control of the bright-red 5,000-pound truck. Well, not entirely in control. "All I've got to do is smash that car, I'll tell ya," he said of a vehicle in his path. The questions he asked were unsettling: "Squeeze that button? ... Do I park it this way? ... I'm going to miss the curb? ... Is there a reverse?"

Spotting a Capitol Police car, he speculated, "They're probably looking at me." Eyeing some photographers near the car, Hatch allowed that he was "a little bit concerned" for their safety. When one got too close, Hatch muttered: "That guy's really got some guts to stand there."

Hilariously, Hatch's home-state newspaper had a much kinder interpretation of the affair. The Salt Lake Tribune described the senator as "carefully avoiding a troupe of photographers and reporters" as he steered the hybrid H3, which uses a 40-kwh battery pack that weighs 600 pounds on its own.

Leaving aside the frightening thought of a hulking military-style vehicle being repackaged as "green" -- for the bargain price of $50,000 -- the hybrid H3's claim to 100-mpg status is pretty misleading.

For one, the car has a range of 40 miles on its plug-in electric battery before its 11-gallon fuel tank kicks in. But those first 40 miles aren't gimmes; if Hatch had to make a long trip in the D.C. area, he'd be paying 12.83 cents for every kilowatt-hour in the car's battery pack. The 100-mpg figure is an average of the H3's gas-free first 40 miles and its subsequent fuel-using mileage. How many miles to the gallon does the hybrid Hummer get when you factor out its electricity-based miles? It's tough to say.

What we do know is that Hatch is a longtime supporter of tax credits for producers and purchasers of plug-in hybrid vehicles, including a proposal to give government money to electric utilities that offer rebates to plug-in drivers. His co-sponsor in that effort: then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).