MANSFIELD -- The three young men in the shiny silver SUV tooling around Central Park Wednesday afternoon were on a road trip. But this trio didn't include ballparks or beaches.
They were part of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund's "Drive Beyond Oil Tour." It's a campaign to rally public support for higher fuel economy standards as the House prepares to vote on an energy bill by the end of the week. The Senate passed an energy bill June 21 that includes a 35 mpg standard by 2020.
Starting July 24 in Maryland, the Toyota Highland Hybrid stopped in Richland County as part of a five-state tour sponsored by the fund, an affiliate of the environmental action organization Natural Resources Defense Council.
Wearing T-shirts declaring "35 MPG OR BUST," Rob Perks, John Grant and Scott Laeser fanned out across the downtown square. They offered statistics about what more miles to the gallon would mean in terms of personal savings and potential jobs. They also had available cell phones so people could call their congressional representatives on the spot and urge them to vote for stronger mileage standards.
Noting that while they did have trouble renting the hybrid SUV in Ohio, Perks stressed that they were not shilling for Toyota.
"We're not talking about flying cars," he said. "We're talking about stuff that's here now."
Laeser said Toyota surpassed the 1 million mark in hybrid sale in June.
Popping the hood, Grant said the Highlander has a gas and electric engine that allows it to use electric power at low speeds for better fuel economy.
Perks said reports from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute along, with an NRDC report, "Addicted to Oil: Ranking States' Oil Vulnerability to Change," tout the effect higher fuel economy standards on Detroit automakers while saving energy and protecting the environment.
"Our latest research shows Ohio is in trouble," Perks said. "Not enough is being done to address oil dependence in the state and that is going to hurt the neediest. What Ohio needs is leadership on this issue and voting for the new House energy bill is a pretty good start."
He said fuel economy standards being sought are an average, acknowledging not all vehicles will meet them but it would be beneficial on numerous fronts to "do better."
Delphine Smith took Grant up on his cell phone offer while traveling from Detroit with husband Daryl Smith and sons Robert and Terrence. Did she hesitate to call her congressman?
"No, we commute," the former banker turned full-time homemaker said. "Gas prices. We just don't understand it."
Daryl said they spent $56 on gas to drive to Mansfield and would be going on to King's Island. "That's another $50."
Perks coached Chuck George of Mansfield during his call to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, who represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes Mansfield. George said he doesn't drive but reported the price of gas has prevented people from out of town from coming to see him.
"We are waiting to see what the final version of the bill is," said Ray Yonkura, Jordan's chief of staff.
He said Jordan favors alternative fuels, and feels they should be part of a natural energy strategy. Yonkura said debate on the issue has caused a lot of good ideas to come together but that he's unsure what the final bill will look like because so many changes have taken place.