AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine car dealers and the automobile industry are opposing a rule aimed at encouraging the sale of cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars in the state in five years.

Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection held a hearing Thursday on the rule, which would also need the approval of the Legislature before taking effect in 2009.

The proposal calls for a zero-emissions, or ZEV, vehicle program modeled after a California law and adopted by several other states.

It requires 10 percent of the cars sold in the state to meet stringent emissions standards that can now be met with gas-electric hybrids, some gasoline-powered engines, experimental fuel-cell cars as well as electric-powered vehicles.

Environmentalists say the rule would reduce air pollution that causes health problems like asthma. The ZEV proposal also has the support of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, which sees it as a way to reduce greenhouse gases.

But representatives of General Motors, the Maine Automobile Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the rules are not needed because public demand is already pushing the industry to produce cleaner, more fuel-efficient models.

Dealers said they’re concerned about setting a quota that would limit the availability of all types of cars. They also said they could be left with cars on their lots they might not be able to sell.

While 61 percent of the vehicles sold in Maine are pickup trucks or sport utility vehicles, most cars that are hybrids or meet clean gasoline standards are compacts, said Robert Babik of General Motors in Detroit.

“California would be choosing which vehicles could be sold in the state of Maine,” Babik said.

Adam Lee, whose 10 family owned dealerships in Maine sell some hybrid models, said his customers must wait six to eight months for those vehicles.

“If we could get three or four more times as many, we could sell them all,” Lee said.

AP-ES-10-08-04 0911EDT

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