WASHINGTON - The EPA, moving to break a logjam between automakers and the states in the Northeast on an emissions standard, proposed its own solution last week.
The proposal would remove legal barriers in several states to the concept of a 49-state car. The EPA said the proposal, if accepted by the automakers and the northeastern states, could lead within 18 months to the sale in 49 states of vehicles that pollute 70 percent less than most current models.
EPA spokesman Dave Ryan said the agency, which is not authorized to toughen vehicle emission standards until 2004, issued the new rule as a 'framework for a voluntary program.'
EPA estimates the proposal would add $76 or less to the price of each vehicle produced. The car companies, which conditionally endorsed the proposal last week, did not dispute the figure.
Associations representing the Big 3 and the international carmakers said in a joint statement that the rule, facilitating the so-called 49-state National Low Emission Vehicle program, would mean 'cleaner vehicles ... faster and at a more reasonable cost than any currently allowed federal or state program.'
The companies essentially are offering to provide nationwide vehicles that go beyond current clean-air law in order to avoid a hodgepodge of states with California-style emissions rules.
The next big hurdle would be for the 12 Northeastern states and the District of Columbia, which make up the Ozone Transport Region and are obligated by federal law to find ways to improve air quality, to accept the National Low Emission Vehicle program as a remedy.
Two of the states, New York and Massachusetts, have adopted California-style standards, including a requirement that some electric vehicles be sold, but carmakers have challenged the electric car mandate in court.
Bruce Carhart, executive director of the region's Ozone Transport Commission, said the resolution of the dispute depends on details that will be in a supplemental rule from EPA and on subsequent commitments from the manufacturers.