WASHINGTON – Looking like a car dealership,Atrium Hall in the Ronald Reagan Building Monday housed 17 2004 model-year vehicles that meet the new clean air standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt delivered the sales pitch.
“I do love snow,” he said of the city's overnight storm,“but there's something else I love,and that's clean air.”
Auto officials and gas refiners joined Leavitt at a news conference to recognize some early successes in a program that will require all cars,sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks to meet clean air standards by 2009.
Among the cars on display were a Mercedes Benz SL 500 roadster,a BMW 530i,a Mazda RX8,a Volvo XC70,a Chrysler Town & Country and a Porsche Boxster S.
“Turn the key to the ignition and the sound you hear is the combustion of a new fuel,” said Gary Heminger,president of Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC. “It's a very low-sulfur fuel – the technical equivalent of a calorie-free doughnut.”
But some say the Bush administration is eating the last doughnut out of the Clinton administration's box.
“For them to simply blatantly stand there,basking in the glow of the work the Clinton administration did is just wrong,” said Mary Nichols,vice chair of Environment2004,a political organization. “It's the kind of conduct that could get you run out of schools for cheating.”
Nichols,who was EPA assistant administrator for air under President Clinton,said the EPA program,“Tier 2 Vehicle and Gasoline Sulfur Rulemaking,” is “identical” to what began in the Clinton administration.
Underneath a banner reading “Cleaner Vehicles + Cleaner Fuel = Cleaner Air,” Leavitt said this program will make vehicles 77 to 95 percent cleaner than vehicles on the road today,and gasoline will have 90 percent less sulfur.
While those numbers look impressive,Brendan Bell,associate Washington representative of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program,said the program standards do not address all pollutants that come from cars and trucks.
“The cars today show that existing technology can cut smog,” Bell said. “The problem is that the Bush administration hasn't dealt with the other major pollutant – carbon dioxide.”
Twenty-five percent of all cars and light trucks sold in 2004 need to meet these new requirements. Leavitt estimated that as many as 35 percent of vehicles sold this year will do so.
John Cabaniss,the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers' energy and environment director,said that nine of the group's 14 member manufacturers have vehicles that meet the new EPA requirements.
“About 40 percent of the vehicles produced this year will meet the standards,” Cabaniss said. “Some companies are a bit higher than the 25 percent requirement individually.”
Cabaniss said this program is good for everybody. Both national and international manufacturers have brought the necessary research and development together to meet the EPA standards in the least-costly way,he said.
“These cars don't have significantly higher price tags because they're cleaner,” Cabaniss said. “They're perhaps $100 more.”
Heminger said the oil industry will spend approximately $17 billion to meet all of the EPA program's requirements.
Nichols said the 2009 deadline gives everyone plenty of time to meet the new standards,and Cabannis said some will be ahead of that.
“Nearly all of it will be done by 2008. I think the only things that will be sort of on the cusp of not quite being there will be some of the heavier vehicles,” Cabannis said. “But they won't have any trouble being in by 2009.”
For more information about specific vehicles' clean air ratings,go to the “Green Vehicle Guide” Web site at: www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.