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Californians May Give Up Their True Love, S.U.V.'s
But filthy air, tough budget times and old-fashioned politics are now pushing some elected officials here to seize upon the S.U.V. as a symbol of all that has gone wrong with the state.
Philip Angelides, the state treasurer, and John Burton, the Senate president pro tem, announced today that they would seek legislation to ban state agencies from buying new S.U.V.'s. Among other benefits, they said, the ban would save the state about $14 million over five years.
"California needs to take this step," he said at a news conference. "Some would say it is symbolic. It is symbolic. It is a symbol to both Michigan and the auto manufacturers in this country and the other state legislatures, but also it can save lives, it can save money and do something about air pollution."
Law enforcement agencies and emergency services would be exempt from the ban. Other requests for S.U.V.'s would need to be approved by the State Department of General Services. It was unclear when the State Legislature might take up the proposal.
Several cities and counties across the country have imposed restrictions on S.U.V. purchases, and other state governments, including those in Ohio and Massachusetts, have considered similar proposals. But environmental groups waging nationwide campaigns against S.U.V.'s because of safety and fuel efficiency concerns said none approached the scope or scale of the California proposal.
Though a precise count was not available, state officials estimate that S.U.V.'s account for about 10 percent of the state's fleet of 73,000 cars and trucks, with about 500 new S.U.V.'s bought or leased each year. State officials said that California has the largest state vehicle fleet in the nation.
"This creates an example every state in this country should follow," Laurie David, a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee, said. "Today's plan guarantees that law enforcement and rescue workers will have the trucks they need to keep us safe. But it will eliminate heavyweight government gas guzzlers that are pulling lightweight duty."
Jason H. Vines, president of the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America, an advocacy group in Washington, predicted the legislation would fail because S.U.V.'s remain extremely popular, no matter the driver, and because critics of the vehicle have misrepresented it.
"People like what their S.U.V.'s do," Mr. Vines said. "I won't have any other vehicle."
Today's proposal is the latest in a series of efforts by California legislators to curb S.U.V. use among state officials.
Last December, the rules committee in the State Assembly created an incentive program to encourage Assembly members to buy hybrid vehicles or those that use alternative fuels. Thirty-five of the 71 members who drive state-owned cars have an S.U.V., the committee stated. (In the Senate, 16 of 38 members with state-owned cars have an S.U.V.) Under the incentive programs, assembly members who trade in vehicles with poor fuel efficiency get $10,000 added to their budgets.
As a practical matter, the effort begun today is likely to meet
stiff resistance among Republicans. Though members of both parties
drive the vehicles, Republican legislators tend to represent rural
areas and often have a legitimate need for them. Mr. Burton and Mr.
Angelides also fanned partisan fires by suggesting that their
proposal offered an alternative to the Bush administration's "wrong
direction" on fuel efficiency.
Source: Dean E Murphy, www.nytimes.com/2003/06/13/national/13SUV.html?ex=1056168000&en=b85edb6b8ff02065&ei=5059&partner=AOL