For the last two and a half weeks, rock star Neil Young has been driving across the United States in a 1959 Lincoln that he had converted to be powered by electricity and biofuels.
Young's trip in the "LincVolt" took him across most of the states between the West and East coasts, with a stop up in Alberta, Canada, to visit major oil production regions. The trip culminated in a rally yesterday in Washington, D.C., where Young told a group of farmers and ethanol supporters who are in town this week that the trip taught him a valuable lesson.
"Those who tell you that we need fossil fuels to run your car to get to work and back and to run the delivery vans around town and the small, light-duty pickup trucks -- those people are all wrong," Young said yesterday in a park flanked by Senate office buildings. "We don't need fossil fuels for that. We have a model that works, and we have ways of making it accessible for every American over the next five years so that everybody can afford this."
The event, organized by the National Farmers Union as part of its annual legislative fly-in, attracted Washington, D.C.'s most powerful ethanol lobbyists and was also attended by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- a longtime Young fan who played the rock star's song "Trans Am" on his smart phone over the microphone -- and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Young said he "did not have all the facts" on bills being considered in Congress but that he stood behind farmers and the ethanol industry. His car, which he calls a bioelectric vehicle, runs on electricity for the first 35 or so miles, and then cellulosic ethanol provided by Poet LLC, one of the nation's largest ethanol companies, kicks in to power it the rest of the way.
"It's an unbelievable car. It's great to ride in. It's fast and it's clean," said Young, in a black fedora and a bright green shirt that said "Go Family Farms." "It burns cellulosic ethanol and it has electricity, obviously. You can plug it in. But when we run out of electricity, the generator comes on and the American farmers and the Canadian farmers and the crops that you grow make this car go. We didn't use any petroleum all the way across here."
The Canadian rock star, the "Heart of Gold" composer who has performed with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and his own band Crazy Horse, has long been an advocate for the environment. He began the LincVolt project in 2008 to promote both biofuels and electric vehicles. The program had a setback when the car caught fire in 2010 in a California warehouse and allegedly caused hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of damage, prompting a lawsuit by an insurance company, but Young's company rebuilt the car.
Along the way here, Young said, he had to stop at mechanics' shops for minor issues.
"We were meeting farmers, we were stopping at gas stations, we were talking to people. We had a little trouble here and there with the car, an electric window, maybe a fuel pump that we needed to get fixed," Young said. "We met some great people. We met a lot of farmers. I've met a lot of farmers in my life, and I stand behind what you are all doing as well as I can, and stand beside you. I don't think it's help you need; I think you just need people standing up for you."
He slammed what he called a "misinformation" campaign being spread by oil companies to oppose the renewable fuel standard, the federal mandate that requires refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels into the nation's fuel supply a year by 2022.
"Who are these people who are telling us how dirty and how ethanol is not clean? I think it's the oil companies," the rock star said. "And the only thing about their product that is green is the money that goes into campaigns, that pays for our representatives. We have to hold these people to task."
At least one opponent in the crowd challenged Young and ethanol supporters, asking them how they could support ethanol for transportation purposes with the prospect of needing more land to feed billions of people in the world.