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Auto emissions target of bill by Rockefeller

The legislation would match the clean-air standards set by California.

With much of the world lacing up this week for a showdown against global warming, Sen. Phil Rockefeller wasn’t content to watch from the sidelines.

The Bainbridge Island Democrat pitched a bill now winding its way through the state Senate that would cut auto emissions, establishing tougher standards for vehicles purchased in Washington.

Auto makers and dealerships say Senate Bill 5397 could mean higher sticker prices for cars and trucks outfitted with expensive new technology. Supporters say the bill draws the state closer to standards set by the Kyoto Protocol – a 100 nation agreement to curb climate-warming gasses that was enacted last week without U.S. ratification.

Rockefeller said he has found a broad base of support for his “Clean cars, clean air” bill, calling it a “win-win situation” for business, the environment and human health.

“So many problems can be linked back to our cars’ tailpipes, including dependence on foreign oil, respiratory illness and low water in our reservoirs due to global warming,” he said. “Simply by giving the pollution-aware residents of Washington a choice of the most efficient cars available goes a long way toward solving these problems.”

The fast-moving bill passed through the Senate’s Water, Energy and Environment Committee last Thursday and is headed to the Rules Committee for review. Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) introduced a companion bill in the state House.

SB 5397 would adopt emissions standards comparable to California’s, boosting requirements for vehicles sold or brought into the state starting in 2009.

Auto makers would be required to install similar air conditioning, engine and transmission technologies used in many California cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The new rules could boost the cost of new cars by thousands of dollars, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Members of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association are afraid the new emissions standards could send buyers across the state’s borders in search of cheaper cars and trucks.

But Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, cites statistics that show additional costs will be minimal while fuel savings will soar.

“The Cali­fornia Air Re­sources Board calculates the fuel savings for the typical car buyer at about $11 a month,” he said. “While the average car will cost about $325 more, the savings over the life of the vehicle can be more than $2,000.”

The agency’s Climate Protection Advisory Committee has come out strongly in support of Rockefeller’s bill, urging the state to “begin now, and begin with determination” in a report released last month.

The 25-member committee, which includes representatives from Boeing, the Weyerhaeuser Company, the Western States Petroleum Association and a range of government agencies, utilities and environmental groups, believes “global warming is occurring and that human-induced greenhouse emissions must be sufficiently reduced to achieve climate stabilization.”

Rockefeller’s bill puts Washington in line with a growing number of states bucking the federal government’s approach toward curbing emissions.

While the U.S. balked at the Kyoto pact, 12 West Coast and Northeastern states have recently formed coalitions to cut greenhouse gasses.

In November 2004, the governors of Washington, Oregon and California approved a series of recommendations to reduce global warming and air pollution, including the collaborative purchase of hybrid, electric and gas powered vehicles while increasing the sale of energy generated from renewable resources.

The three-state Global Warm­ing Initiative would also update state building energy codes to boost efficiency by 15 percent before 2015.

On the East Coast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, – signed by nine contiguous states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts – will implement a broad strategy for controlling carbon dioxide emissions.

“More and more states are considering and choosing the so-called California statndards, because they know they are designed to achieve lower emissions of toxins,” Rockefeller said.

He believes Washington state residents are ready to enact similar standards.

“My work in this area tells me they want cleaner air for themselves and their kids,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that one in ten kids in the region now develops asthma. They also want the most efficient cars available, with the potential for significant savings in fuel purchases.

“They wonder why, if a quarter of the new cars being sold in the nation already meet the better standards, we don’t have them more widely available here.”

Rockefeller has found bi-partisan support for the smog-busting measure.

Republican Dan Swecker of Rochester is co-sponsoring the bill while his follow GOP colleagues Bob Oke of Port Orchard and Luke Esser of Bellevue have added their stamp of approval.

Rockefeller said his bill was drafted with the people of Washington in mind, but says toxic emissions don’t recognize state or international boundaries. He hopes his measure contributes to the global effort to curb greenhouse gasses.

“In the long term, Washington could be working to achieve less output of carbon dioxide from vehicles sold in our state,” he said. “That is a small contribution to a global problem, and perhaps it will be a good example for others to follow.”

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