Notes from the President: Open Roads (Spring 2008 Trust Magazine)

Apr 30, 2008

History shows that the automobile had a slow start. In 1509, Leonardo da Vinci described a device that, centuries later, would be called a predecessor of the internal combustion engine, whose incremental development in the 19th century made the automobile possible. Then innovation came fast and furious.

One aspect of the growing industry, however, lost ground: fuel efficiency. In 1903, a touring car reached 15 miles per gallon. Some 70 years later, cars averaged only about 13 miles per gallon.

In 1975, in the wake of an oil crisis, Congress set standards for fleet-wide efficiency, known as corporate average fuel economy or CAFE. The goal was 18 miles per gallon in 1978 models, rising to 27.5 by 1985.

Since then, the world has changed in many ways. Terrorism has become a threat in virtually every country. The world’s known reserves of petroleum are expected to last only several more decades at current consumption levels. And human-caused greenhouse gas emissions—in part due to transportation—have been confirmed as a factor in global warming. Yet the long-outdated standard of the 1975 law remained in place until December of last year, when a newfederal law set the goal of 35miles per gallon by 2020.

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency helped Congress reach this destination by providing the public and policy makers fact-based maps for the debate. Like all of Pew’s work, the campaign’s case was strictly nonpartisan: Increased standards will reduce our dependence on oil, enhance security, save consumers money and stimulate investments in cleaner vehicle technologies.

Helping drive the effort was the National Environmental Trust (NET), begun in 1994 by Pew and other donors. Over the years, NET built an experienced staff of public-policy and campaign professionals who played a central role in both U.S. environmental policy discussions and international treaty negotiations. The Pew Environment Group partnered with NET on many public-education campaigns. Now, Pew has added NET’s expertise and effectiveness through a merger that literally creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts. “We are poised to enter a new era in Pew’s environmental history,” says the group’s managing director, Josh Reichert, “and we are better equipped than ever to produce enduring results.”

State governments are pulling a heavy load with an expanding array of responsibilities. Education now includes preschool, the criminal-justice systems must control costs without sacrificing public safety, and policy makers seek to strengthen government performance. The states are also facing new issues, such as global warming. For these and other concerns, the Pew Center on the States is an invaluable navigation system, helping states steer a steady course over often-difficult terrain. It conducts trustworthy research, brings together a variety of perspectives and advances nonpartisan, pragmatic solutions for pressing problems.

Two center initiatives are featured in this issue. One is electionline.org, which Pew established as a neutral clearinghouse for information about election reform after the voting debacle during the 2000 presidential election. This effort evolved to provide unbiased and accurate information and guidance to federal, state and local election officials on trends, important issues and best practices in conducting elections.

The Pew Center on the States also produces its own research and analysis, as in Promises with a Price, the first report of its kind to examine the pension, health-care and other retirement benefits owed by each of the 50 states to their employees over the next three decades. Currently, the obligations far exceed the funds available. Paying the impending bill will require a significant outlay of taxpayer dollars, and the states must muster the political will to make the necessary investments. The report presents irrefutable data and then describes some of the fiscally responsible steps that states can take, with examples from those demonstrating leadership.

A small note to mark two anniversaries. This issue of Trust marks a full decade of publication. In the first issue, we said that the new magazine would describe “the work, commitment, passion and persistence of our partners and the people they serve.” That it has done—in a way that recalls advice to an author from one of our founders, J. Howard Pew, back in 1963. Mr. Pew returned an unsolicited book manuscript because of the “technical” presentation of the material: “It must be told,” he counseled the writer, “in story form.” Compelling narratives and images have been Trust’s stock in trade, conveying our approach and solutions to crucial matters of our era.

Sixty years ago, The Pew Charitable Trusts was established. The four founding philanthropists invested their hopes, values and an entrepreneurial spirit in the new institution, and these qualities remain our constant compass, even though the contemporary world is markedly different from theirs. In this anniversary year, we rededicate ourselves to their vision and mandate to apply the power of knowledge to serve the public interest.

Rebecca W. Rimel
President and CEO

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