Saturday, November 01, 2008

Can big yellow taxis ever be green?

During the past eight years many state governments have filled the vacuum created by the Bush Administration and taken the lead in implementing progressive clean energy policies. There's no question that in some cases this has led to some spirited competition among states for bragging rights as to who is the"greenest" state.

There is, however, more than just pride involved here. State lawmakers are concerned with finding solutions to their serious air quality problems. They also realize that leadership in clean energy development can create new and exciting economic development opportunities.

Recently clean energy initiatives in California and Massachusetts have renewed the discussion regarding who (federal or state government) actually has the right to establish certain kinds of environmental standards.

Now New York enters into the fray. (GW)

Judge Kills Mayor’s Try at Greening Taxi Fleets

A federal judge dealt a blow on Friday to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to improve air quality in the city, blocking a rule that all new taxis must meet stringent fuel efficiency standards.

The rule, which was scheduled to take effect on Saturday, would have made it mandatory for most cabs to be hybrid gas-and-electric vehicles by 2012. In response to the judge’s order, the city signaled that it would seek to achieve similar results by other means, perhaps by creating a system of incentives that would effectively push most cab owners to buy hybrid vehicles instead of the less fuel-efficient Ford Crown Victoria model that is the workhorse of today’s taxi fleet.

Fleet owners and other industry members had filed a lawsuit against the rule, which is a major component of the mayor’s effort to make city policies more environmentally responsible.

The judge, Paul A. Crotty, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued an injunction to stop the city from enforcing the rule because, he said in a written order, the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in a key legal argument —that only the federal government has the right, under existing laws, to set fuel efficiency standards.

In a written statement, Mr. Bloomberg said, “We are very disappointed in the decision.”

The statement said that the city was considering an appeal of the judge’s order. “The decision is not a ruling against hybrid cabs,” the statement continued, “rather a ruling that archaic Washington regulations are applicable and therefore New York City, and all other cities, are prevented from choosing to create cleaner air and a healthier place to live.”

In response to the judge’s order, the statement said, the mayor instructed the Taxi and Limousine Commission to come up with a new program, “with strong incentives for the use of fuel-efficient vehicles and heavy disincentives for use of the inefficient vehicles of a past generation.”

The commission is considering a rule that would reduce the number of years that less fuel-efficient cabs could remain on the road, a city official briefed on the commission’s plans said. Currently, cabs must be replaced after three to five years, depending in part on how frequently they are driven.

Ron Sherman, president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the principal group behind the lawsuit, applauded the judge’s decision.

“This has never been about whether or not the taxi industry should be embracing a greener, more fuel-efficient fleet,” Mr. Sherman said in a written statement. “This has been about safety and common sense.”

The rule that was to take effect on Saturday required that most new taxicabs achieve a fuel-efficiency rating of at least 25 miles per gallon, a standard that can be met almost exclusively by hybrids. The Crown Victoria gets 12 to 14 miles per gallon.

Some taxi owners switched voluntarily to hybrid vehicles in advance of the requirement. A commission spokesman, Alan Fromberg, said there were 13,237 taxis on the road. Almost 1,500 of those are hybrids.

Many in the taxi industry have resisted the change, however, claiming that the available hybrids were not designed for the rough-and-tumble duty of New York cabs and were more prone to costly breakdowns. They have also argued that the lighter and smaller hybrids are less safe, with occupants more likely to be injured in accidents. Judge Crotty said that questions of safety were not factors in his decision.

The decision said that the federal government set fuel efficiency standards under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which bars state and local governments from setting their own, competing standards.


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