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Graphic Element, Right Gutter

Rival challenges AAA on environment

By MIKE KILEN
Des Moines Register Staff Writer
12/09/2002
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The list of "green" companies consumers can choose to help the environment now includes an automobile club.

The Better World Club is mounting an attack on the 100-year-old American Automobile Association to take a slice of its nearly 45 million members by challenging AAA's lobbying efforts that the club considers harmful to the environment.

"The behemoth of organizations has an attitude: Kill the planet," says Than Clevenger, spokesman for Better World in Portland, Ore. He says AAA members" dues partially go toward lobbying efforts that oppose clean air and land conservation and push for more roads.

In 1999, AAA opposed new rules that required cleaner-burning exhaust systems for cars, trucks and SUVs. In 1990, they fought the strengthening of the Clean Air Act.

AAA spokesman Mantill Williams said his organization doesn't lobby against the environment, but "99 percent of our lobbying has to do with traffic safety. We don't give any money to politicians.

"They are trying to create this false dichotomy: roads versus pedes- trians." he says. "The reality is we all drive or ride in a car or someone drives us. Of course we are going to look out for the rights and safety of motorists."

Better World gives 1 percent of its profits to environmental causes and eco-friendly travel options and has used its pitch against AAA to grow its membership more than 100 percent each month since its launch this fall.

One member who made the switch from AAA is Amber Hard of Des Moines, director of the nonprofit environmental group Iowa Public Interest Research Group.

"I drive not because it's a lifestyle choice, it's a necessity," says Hard, who adds that AAA touts more driving and roads. "If the Better World Club, regardless of what AAA is doing, is donating profits for environmental groups, then I'm all for it."

The largest feature of automobile clubs is roadside assistance, including towing, battery jump starts, tire problems and lock-out assistance. Other travel-related benefits are included, such as maps and hotel discounts and travel agency services.

Better World's basic annual fee ranges from $49.95 to $79.95 while AAA varies from $13 to $76, depending on the service package.

Better World also claims to be the only automobile club that recognizes "domestic partners" as part of its family coverage.

Among the club's endorsements is one from Tom Magliozzi, co-host of "Car Talk" on National Public Radio, who says: "If AAA thinks that it's a good idea for every single person to get to work in 3,000 pounds of iron, we sure don't want to help support such a silly idea. Cars stink. Everybody knows that."

But Consumer Reports Travel Letter selected AAA the best consumer choice when comparing five automobile clubs, including Better World.

AAA's size allows for deep discounts with partners and suppliers and a vast local network of repair facilities that is superior to others, Consumer Reports found.

Click here to read Letters to the Editor, Des Moines Register, December 16, 2002