County mulls new smog rule |

County mulls new smog rule

Dan BurkhartLunchtime traffic drives though the Brunswick Basin Monday.
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A new law limiting “greenhouse gases” from cars may make the job of Rich Reader, Nevada County fleet manager, a bit more interesting in the years to come.

By the 2009 model year, automobiles sold in California must emit less carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and hydrofluorocarbons, those noxious gases produced by even the most efficient cars’ air conditioners.

What penalties car manufacturers and owners face for noncompliance isn’t clear, but it’s a state mandate, nonetheless.

“The biggest difficulty we’d have in complying with these rules would be in the SUV category, obviously,” said Reader, who maintains a fleet of about 240 county vehicles, some of which are classified as sport utility vehicles and pickups.

Nearly every county employee has access to a pool of cars that includes Subaru four-wheel-drive sedans, and Dodge Durango and Jeep Cherokee sport utility vehicles. Each of these guzzles gasoline at the rate of about 13 miles to the gallon.

The bill, written by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, (D – Agoura Hills), mandates that beginning with the 2009 model year, all vehicles must reduce the production of gases suspected of contributing to global warming. The 2000 model year will be used as the base line.

According to the state Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for setting standards for the new law, transportation sources amount to almost two-thirds of all carbon dioxide released in California.

For Reader, purchasing vehicles that give off less greenhouse gases has been the name of the game for some time. This year, he has been authorized to purchase five gas-electric hybrid vehicles for the county’s use. A typical sedan runs Reader $14,000, about $8,000 less than a hybrid gas-electric Honda Insight. However, the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District picks up the price difference to encourage the purchase of such cars, he said.

“As we purchase small sedans, we are looking more and more at hybrids,” he said. “I’d rather purchase the hybrid because with the higher gas mileage, your cost of ownership can be equalized sooner.”

Richard Varenchik, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said time will tell as to how the new law will work. “We have just started to work on a plan. There is no plan (to deal with the new law).”

Varenchik said fears that SUVs and other large vehicles would be banned in California are unfounded. “We have never tried to ban any automobile, and the bill expressly states that can’t happen.”

Varenchik added that people shouldn’t fear owning weaker, less powerful cars as a result of the new law. “The only change you’ll see is a car that runs better.”

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