This may be the first time states have had to fight the Environmental Protection Agency to pollute less. But Maine and 11 other states that want cleaner cars are in conflict with the federal environmentalists, who are lobbying states to accept dirtier-burning vehicles to please some automakers. The push by the EPA is unseemly and harmful to Maine’s air.
Forget mpg and rpm, the new abbreviation in carland these days is LEV, for low-emission vehicle. And there isn’t just one type of LEV — choose from NLEV and ULEV, CalLEV and TLEV. (There’s also a ZEV — for zero.) Gov. Angus King must decide this week whether to accept NLEV, a proposed national model, and dump CalLEV, the auto-emission technology being produced for California, which Maine and other Northeastern states have begun to adopt.
The California model is actually a process in which automakers over the next decade would be required to improve the efficiency of their engines to produce cleaner cars. NLEV, on the other hand, is more of a threat. Either 49 states — excluding California — sign on to the weaker program, auto makers say, or they will leave current, non-LEV standards in place for all states that have not chosen the California LEV. Perversely, the EPA, eager for a national program — even a weak one — is trying to persuade states to be less environmentally conscientious and take the NLEV. The EPA’s behavior is sort of like Smokey Bear urging campers to play with matches.
Maine is one of 12 states in the Ozone Transport Commission, which four years ago agreed to use the California standards to improve air conditions in the Northeast and meet Clean Air Act requirements. In January 1994, the Maine Legislature rejected a bill that would have removed Maine from the CalLEV program, reinforcing the idea that a regional approach is needed to reduce pollution. The decision made sense then and it makes sense now.
Maine should resist the NLEV proposal because, unlike CalLEV, it frees the auto industry from improving auto efficiency for the next eight years and entirely exempts sport-utility vehicles, minivans and trucks over 6,000 pounds. At least as important, it forces states to give up plans on which they have based policy for years and instead placate an industry that once promised to have the cleaner vehicles available by 2001.
In addition to California, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts already have begun requiring the California standards. Once the entire Northeast corridor puts those standards in place, auto makers will have a strong incentive to produce all cars to the cleaner standard, making their threat to keep producing dirty cars difficult to take seriously. And despite Detroit’s recent talk about its concern for the environment, it is Honda and Toyota that are preparing to sell CalLEV-standard cars nationwide. Hey Detroit, remember the 1970s?
Gov. King will respond to the EPA’s request by the end of this month. He should forcefully reject the federal plan and keep Maine on its current path.