Volume 13, Issue 12 ~ March 24 - 30, 2005
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What Would Gandhi Drive?

Elsewhere in this issue, we write about hybrid automobiles and the hope they offer our populous region of the country.

If you live in Montana or Wyoming, you would enjoy the savings of 60-miles-per-gallon vehicles traversing those long distances. But you might not fully appreciate the value of reducing emissions in a dirty-air region like ours with a fragile waterway like Chesapeake Bay increasingly vulnerable to air pollution.

Bay Weekly readers might remember that we hopped aboard the hybrid bandwagon a few years back with a cover story touting their potential after driving a Honda Insight for a week.

An announcement this week from AAA Mid-Atlantic underscored the value of hybrids beyond reduced air pollution: Gas prices broke a record in Maryland last weekend, averaging $2.06 a gallon.

This is among the reasons that we were disappointed in the defeat in the General Assembly last week of the Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2005, and why we want to use the occasion to remind legislators of the need to protect their constituents rather than out-of-state industries in the session’s remaining days.

For the record, the bill died by a scant vote of 6–5 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The legislation would have required Maryland to adopt a low-emissions vehicle program like California’s for 2009 model cars. In Maryland, the standard would have meant that roughly one-fourth of the new car market would have the more efficient, cleaner burning engines. Eight states have followed these standards despite efforts by the auto industry to defeat them around the country.

One of the arguments used to kill Maryland’s bill is that states should not be mucking around with the Clean Air Act, a province of the federal government. Opponents also argued that the vehicles would cost several thousand dollars more, although that contention seemed inflated and failed to factor in the savings from buying less fuel.

As we see it, the state Senate passed up the opportunity to protect Maryland on two fronts: from dirtier air and from ever-rising fuel costs. Last year, gas increased 30 cents a gallon between March 15 and Memorial Day as families prepared to set out on summer vacations.

We’re unpersuaded by those who say of clean air, Let the feds handle it.

You need only look as far back in history as last week at the new federal rule on airborne mercury to see how we can be let down. Rather than speeding up mercury removal as the Clean Air Act dictates, the Bush administration proposed stretching it out until after 2020, the date by which significant amounts of this dangerous neurotoxin will be removed from power plant emissions.

Even if these were not anti-environment times in Washington, we would hope that the General Assembly would take every opportunity to protect citizens’ health and wallets.

Among the handful of senators voting to kill the Clean Cars bill was Sen. Phil Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, a State Farm insurance agent.

We would have hoped that Jimeno would have done a better job of acting “like a good neighbor,” as his company’s jingle goes, rather than like a friend of the auto industry.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.