Not So Green? Bloomberg Takes SUVs to Subway

Mayor's SUV rides to express subway stop may harm his environmentali agenda.

Aug. 1, 2007 — -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg has joined the ranks of politicians accused of talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to the environment.

The walk in question is from his home to the subway station.

Bloomberg's strong environmentalist agenda and well-publicized habit of taking a subway to work most days made headlines for a different reason today, when The New York Times revealed that he actually drives 22 blocks in a police-driven convoy of two SUVs before hopping on a train.

By taking a ride in that mini caravan of Chevrolet Suburbans to an express stop at 59th Street rather than walking to a local train station just minutes from his East 79th Street home, Bloomberg joins the ranks of Al Gore, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton as politicians who have had their public green credentials called into question by their private actions.

In doing so, he has received barbs from environmentalists who accuse him of undermining his own message and conservatives who charge him with concealing the true cost of his environmental policies.

For the billionaire mayor, the appearance is rather worse than the reality.

His SUVs ride on ethanol, a more environmentally-friendly alternative to gasoline, so the emissions aren't as noxious as those from your average gas-guzzler.

And for security and emergency purposes there are always vehicles following the mayor, so the SUVs, which are owned and operated by the New York Police Department, would be following the mayor on his path to work whether he was in the car or on the subway.

"Were there a hybrid vehicle that met the NYPD's requirements for him, we would get one," Stu Loeser, the mayor's spokesman, told

While the mayor should be praised for encouraging people to ride the subway by becoming a straphanger himself, the fact that he's cutting corners undercuts his message, said John Coequyt, an energy policy specialist at Greenpeace.

"To me, the problem is that as he's championing congestion pricing and other things that are essential to the city, but he's losing support because he's not willing to walk four blocks to the subway and then transfer," Coequyt said.

"If he's interested in getting people to take his environmental message as seriously as he wants them to take it, he should ask himself, 'Is this 20 blocks in my SUV really necessary for the conduct of my job? If not, then wouldn't I be more effective if I walked out my door and hopped on the local?'" added William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Tom Firey, a policy analyst at the libertarian CATO Institute, said politicians like Bloomberg who advocate government solutions to energy concerns often hide from the public the true private costs of these measures -- like giving up your SUV.

"It seems clear that the politicians aren't willing to be honest about these various environmental goals that they want to pursue," Firey said. "If you're going to rely on the bully pulpit, then you have to be willing to pay the cost."

How Green Are They?

As environmentalism increasingly makes its way onto the national agenda, examples of politicians caught harming the environment in a way contrary to their public statements will likely only increase.

Earlier this year, a think tank reported that the Tennessee mansion of Al Gore, the most famous environmentalist of them all, consumes 20 times more energy than the average home. Just last month Gore again faced criticism, this time for serving rare Chilean sea bass at his daughter's wedding. The fish is getting scarce because it's often illegally fished, though Gore said his meal came from legal sources.

Presidential contender John Edwards has also come under fire over whether his sprawling mansion is as environmentally-friendly as it could be.

And at the CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate last month it was revealed that Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Edwards -- all of whom preach an eco-friendly policy -- each took private jets to the debate.

These instances sometimes tell voters that politicians are asking the public to make sacrifices they themselves are not willing to make, said Coequyt. "When politicians lose touch they think they can dictate to other people, and that turns voters off."

And hypocrisy on environmental issues can be difficult to atone for, explained Drew Johnson, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, the conservative think tank that uncovered Gore's high energy bill.

"Since the environment is seen as something that we all share, people are offended when another person does something to harm the environment. It's a lot different than a rich person wasting money. That obviously doesn't harm me," Johnson said. "It's much harder to be forgiven for sins against the environment than for sins against the economy."

Edwards recently released a video where he mocks the media for paying so much attention to his salon bill. Al Gore, though, probably wouldn't get away with a video joking about his high energy bill; likewise with Bloomberg and his SUVs.

How much will news of Bloomberg's Suburbans in the city harm his environmental policy? For the moment, not much, said Democratic strategist Paul Brathwaite. If another larger issue follows, this then he may be in trouble -- but this SUV flap alone shouldn't be too much to worry over, he said.

"I don't think anyone, if you objectively look at this, [would say] he's a hypocrite," Brathwaite said.

Bloomberg has campaigned for a number of green issues, including a London-like vehicle congestion pricing scheme to cut traffic and pollution, as well as converting New York's cabs to cleaner fuels.

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