MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Despite Vermont’s clean-and-green self image, a national environmental group says it is not among the top states in taking steps to reduce dependence on oil.

Vermont ranked 16th in the country on a series of steps states are taking to reduce their dependence on petroleum, said the report from the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meanwhile, Vermont ranked 31st in the country last year for percentage of income its residents spend on gasoline, said the report titled “Fighting Oil Addiction.” Vermont motorists spent an average of $1,856 on gasoline last year, it said.

Regular unleaded gasoline averaged $2.81 a gallon in Vermont in 2007, according to the state Department of Public Service.

Maine came in 13th on the NRDC’s ranking of states for steps taken, but its ranking for amount per capita spent on gasoline – 12th in the country – showed it may have more work to do.

New Hampshire ranked 39th in the country for steps taken to reduce petroleum usage; but ranked 37th in the country for the percentage of income its residents spend on gasoline.

Among the steps the NRDC is recommending are incentives for hybrid vehicles, vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards, efficiency standards for the state fleet, idling restrictions, targets for reducing vehicle miles traveled, growth management laws and spending on public transportation.

More urban states in the Northeast, California, Washington state, New Mexico and Colorado made the top 10 for their efforts. New York ranked second and Connecticut third, for example.

Brian Shupe, sustainable communities director with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, said the report shows Vermont has work to do.

“Despite our green image and reputation for forward-thinking policy, this report shows that Vermont is not among the most innovative states when it comes to taking steps to reduce our reliance on oil for transportation,” Shupe said.

Noelle MacKay, executive director of Smart Growth Vermont, a nonprofit devoted to working against sprawl, said rural states like those in northern New England face tough challenges – mainly a lack of sufficient numbers of riders – to support big public transit systems. But she said Vermont has a good framework in place to make progress on reducing petroleum use nonetheless.

Vermont’s Act 250 land-use law and state programs geared to steering development toward village centers and downtowns are helpful, MacKay said, but she added more should be done.

“We don’t have a lot of support at the state level for communities, and that’s where the land-use decisions are really being made. They’re (cities and towns) the implementers of any kind of land-use-transit link.”

Molly Dugan, acting commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the state has a big focus on development in already built-up areas and avoiding the sort of suburban sprawl that adds to miles driven.

She listed efforts including $3 million a year in funding for regional planning commissions, with work with local communities on planning and transit issues; about $7.5 million a year in federal community development block grant money administered by the state that also is focused on compact development; and this year’s new neighborhoods legislation, which is designed to promote housing development in and next to town centers.

“I think we have a strong investment in assisting communities with planning,” Dugan said. “We’re focusing revitalization efforts on those already established areas of our state, not sprawling out but keeping resources where there’s already development.”

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