California Bill Letting Hybrid Autos Use Car-Pool Lanes May Fail in Washington
Oct. 6Although state legislators easily passed a bill allowing solo-occupant hybrid cars to use car-pool lanes, the new law faces a tough fight in Washington and might not take effect on Jan. 1.
The law signed Sept. 23 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allows drivers of hybrid vehicles that achieve 45 miles per gallon to use the car-pool lanes without having to meet the current two-occupant rule.
But Congress also has to approve the law because federal money is used to fund the lanes for high-occupancy vehicles, or HOVs. And provisions of the law are tied up in the multibillion-dollar highway spending bill that may not be voted on for months.
Automakers are lobbying hard against the current proposal. They want the law broadened to include hybrids just now coming onto the market that don't yet meet the 45 mpg requirement.
"Whether or not it will survive is up in the air," said Mike Stanton of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents nine carmakers including Ford and Toyota.
"The HOV exemption for single-occupant vehicles is a rough policy, a difficult policy issue, to be decided."
But Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, is among those fighting for federal approval of the provision.
He said carmakers opposing the provision are taking an all-or-nothing approach. "If you won't let our hybrids use this lane, you can't let any hybrid use this lane," he characterized their position.
"If the hybrid only got 30 mpg, that's not an extra result. It's not any better for the environment or energy independence."
Currently, only the Toyota Prius and Honda's Civic and Insight qualify under the law's 45 mpg provision.
The highway appropriations bill has been stalled in Congress for more than a year because members cannot agee on how much money should be spent on various transportation projects over the next six years.
On Thursday, the House passed an eight-month interim spending plan but made no mention of the hybrid provision. With subsequent approval needed by the Senate and administration, the debate over the bigger bill could be pushed off for months, officials said.
Hybrid owners who've been eager to take advantage of the state's new legislation won't be able to get the decal they need to ride in HOVs from the Department of Motor Vehicles until federal authorization goes through.
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