Automakers plan to end voluntarily the use of mercury switches in new cars and trucks this year, but at least one state wants to keep the heat on car companies for past installations.
A bill approved by Maine lawmakers and supported by Gov. Angus King would make each automaker responsible for the mercury switches in its vehicles in the state. Mercury is toxic.
"It's a ridiculous bill," said Greg Dana, vice president for environmental affairs of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The alliance, representing 13 car companies, favored an alternative: a $1 fee added to the price of each vehicle sold in the state. Proceeds would have gone to car and truck dismantlers to cover the cost of removing and disposing of the switches.
Instead, the bill would require each car company to set up its own facility in the state for gathering and processing switches from old vehicles. Automakers are prohibited specifically from using dealerships as collection points, Dana said.
The companies may pass on the cost of the program to buyers of new vehicles in Maine, he said. He didn't say how much the program would cost.
Michael Belliveau, toxics project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he hopes the law will be a model for the nation.
Dana said automakers may challenge the law in court. Automakers in Maine lost to a coalition of environmental groups and vehicle recyclers, who said the manufacturers should be accountable for putting a toxic substance in vehicles in the first place.
Gloria Bergquist, vice president for communications of the automakers' alliance, said the recyclers want to skim the cream - take the parts from which they can profit but ignore those for which there is no market.
The bill's proponents said carmakers know which switches contain mercury, but dismantlers don't. So when vehicles are crushed or shredded, mercury escapes to the environment and ultimately poses a health risk, especially to small children.
Dana said automakers have taken steps to eliminate mercury from their products. "It's a funny thing to punish people who do the right things voluntarily."