AUGUSTA – Senior citizen Richard Brautigam of Brunswick told legislators Tuesday that he loves his Toyota Prius. It gets great gas mileage, is environmentally friendly “and is terrific in the winter.”

But because the cars are not readily available, he had to wait nine months to buy it. He was among several who spoke for a bill that would mandate manufacturers ramp up delivery of cleaner cars to Maine.

Health advocates, environmentalists and those who drive, repair and sell cars spoke for passage of L.D. 1465, which proposes that Maine mandate that 10 percent of all new cars sold be cleaner-burning vehicles by 2009.

The automobile industry is opposed, saying Maine is a truck- and SUV-dominated market, and it will take a while to develop the technology for the larger vehicles many Mainers buy.

Speaking for the bill, David Littell, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Protection, told Natural Resources Committee members that creating the mandate would help meet federal requirements to reduce air pollution in Maine, which health advocates said is a significant health problem.

The law would mandate that in 2009, 4 percent would be hybrids, 6 percent super-low emission vehicles, what’s called “partial zero emission vehicles,” or PZEV. Those PZEV vehicles include 27 models already in the market including Toyota Camry’s and Honda Accords.

Maine would be the eighth state to require such a law, joining Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and California, and Canada, Littell said.

In developing the proposal Gov. John Baldacci held several meetings with automobile manufacturers to build a law that manufacturers could meet, Littell said. If consumers don’t buy the cleaner vehicles, the law will be changed, he said.

David Allen White, who owns an automobile repair business in Bar Harbor, called the bill a win-win. “The manufacturers sell more, customers wait less, and technology advances, and we’re all better off for it,” he said. Noting demand is high, White said he could sell “a ton of the cars” at his business, “and I’m not even a dealer.”

Sue Jones of the Natural Resources Council of Maine praised Toyota, Honda and Ford as “leaders” in the industry for already making cleaner cars. States need to pass laws and help “the laggers roll up their sleeves, work with their engineers and make more of these vehicles available.”

But the automobile industry disagreed.

Casimer Andary of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said smaller vehicles would have no trouble meeting tougher emission standards by 2009, but meeting standards could be tough for larger vehicles, and Maine is a truck-dominated market. Manufacturers question whether there’d be sufficient sales of the cleaner vehicles in Maine, he said.

Manufacturers are working to develop more environmentally friendly vehicles, Andary said, but he said “it’s going to take time. There are problems with engineering and performance that need to be resolved.”

Virginia Davis of the Maine Automobile Dealers complained the law would force Maine dealers to buy specific cars from manufacturers, but the public would not be forced to buy them. “While it is voluntary for the public it is not voluntary for dealers,” Davis said. “We’re the ones who have to pay for it.”

The Department of Environmental Protection Board voted for the regulation mandating cleaner cars last December. Before the regulation can be implemented, it must be approved by legislators. The Natural Resources Committee will consider the bill on April 22, then send it to the House and Senate.

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