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Clean vehicle bill still revving

t But the local delegation is split on the bill, now on to the Senate.

The state House passed a tougher auto emissions standards bill Wednesday, similar to one proposed in the Senate by Bainbridge legislator Phil Rockefeller.

The House bill would require Washington to follow California’s auto emissions rules. Auto makers would need to manufacture cleaner-running cars for sale in the state by 2009.

Rockefeller’s nearly identical companion bill died in the Senate Rules Committee in late February.

“This is absolutely a victory,” said Rockefeller. “It means it’s still alive.”

Supporters of both bills say the new standards would cut-down on tailpipe toxins and bring the state in-line with a global trend toward cutting harmful greenhouse gasses. Other states have adopted similar measures, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine.

“Adopting these new standards is good for our economy, good for our well-being and great for our environment,” said Rep. Ed Murray (D-Seattle), who sponsored the House bill. “And this is a local way for us to address a global problem.”

The bill generated three hours of debate Wednesday before passing 53 to 42.

Rep. Beverly Woods (R-Kingston) strongly opposed the measure. She argued that Washington’s air pollution levels are not near that of California’s and that the bill would make automobiles more expensive.

“Our air quality isn’t even close to California’s, and production of low-emission vehicles like the gas-electric hybrids (are) growing without help from the bill,” she said. “The free market is providing the solution before we even have the problem.”

Woods, who represents Bainbridge Island and north Kitsap County, said she fears consumers will cross the state’s borders in search of cheaper cars and trucks.

“I’m concerned this legislation would create new problems down the road by making new cars less affordable and giving people reason to buy cars in Oregon and Idaho if they can’t find a particular model here anymore.”

The bill will now go to the state Senate, entering the Water, Energy and Environment Committee by the end of the month.

Rockefeller, a member of the Water committee, said he hopes to corral enough bipartisan Senate support for the House bill.

“It will have a somewhat tougher road in the Senate, but I think we can get enough of a coalition together to get this done,” he said.

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