Driving for lower emissions

OLYMPIA — When it comes to legislation that would raise vehicle emissions standards in the State of Washington, the only thing 23rd District Sen. Phil Rockefeller hopes goes up in smoke is the current car regulations.

Rockefeller, a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 5397 — one that would increase the state level of emissions standards for all automobiles — said he believes the issue is not just about the environment, but is also grounded in sound economics.

“I believe that our consumers should have access to the most efficient and the least polluting vehicles possible,” he said. “And when we bring our standards to the California standards, our consumers will then have access to the most advanced and efficient vehicles on the road in any of the states.”

The Bainbridge Island resident cites statistics that point to automobiles as the single largest cause of air pollution in Washington.

But he said he hopes car buyers will be the ones who ultimately benefit, should the bill pass.

“I ask, ‘Why should our consumers be denied access to the most efficient, least polluting cars out there?’” Rockefeller said. “I think it’s a matter of consumer choice.”

The bill garners support from most Democrats in Olympia, and with Rockefeller’s party in the majority in both the house and senate, only a few Republicans would be needed to ensure passage. California, along with a handful of states in the Northeast, have already adopted tougher emissions standards than are federally mandated.

If passed, new emissions rules would go into effect in the Evergreen State in 2009.

Rockefeller is hoping he can convince a few of his GOP counterparts by demonstrating how he feels the auto emissions would help state businesses. He said local companies like Weyerhaeuser and even a local dry-cleaning establishment are already adhering to strict state regulations, so why then should car standards be off the hook, his argument goes.

“They carry an extra burden because we have never asked out of state manufacturers of cars, which are the single-largest source of pollution, to do their share,” Rockefeller said. “The result is our in state businesses have to spend more money to meet air quality requirements than ever because they’re carrying the load for the entire air shed. I would like to level the playing field for each of our state businesses.”

He said he isn’t buying into some car manufacturers’ arguments that the new emissions standards would be too costly.

“They always claim that any safety improvement is going to cost a lot more for the consumer,” Rockefeller said. “When the subject of debate was seatbelts, they made the same claim. When the subject of debate was bumpers, they made the same claim. And when the subject of debate was whether or not to have air bags, they made the same claim. In every case, those improvements are now an integral part of the vehicle.”

Escalating gas prices means that more fuel efficient cars will save Washington residents money, he added.

“I doubt if we’re ever going to return to the price levels of two years ago,” he commented. “Some day we may look back and say $2 was relatively cheap.”

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