SAN FRANCISCO -- Two senior California officials, flanked by environmental lobbyists and "Seinfeld" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, on Thursday proposed a law that would bar most state agencies from buying gas-guzzling SUVs.
The bill, spearheaded by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who are both Democrats, would exempt state police and emergency services but force other agencies to justify an SUV purchase because of concerns over safety, cost and the environment.
"We're going to drive the state to a new policy," Angelides told reporters in San Francisco, arguing that cash-strapped California would save money with smaller cars.
California's car fleet numbers about 73,000. An estimated 7.5 percent to 10 percent of state vehicles are SUVs, which account for up to 25 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales.
The bill, expected to face a tough fight in the state's legislature, was another blow to the image of SUVs, which critics have seized on as a symbol of environmental excess.
Louis-Dreyfus, who turned up at the press conference to show support for the measure, said most state agencies do not need large vehicles.
Laurie David, a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, noted the proposed law would apply to the state legislature.
Many California lawmakers, including some Democrats who last year approved tough standards designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, have come under fire for driving taxpayer-provided, low-mileage SUVs.
A Sierra Club spokesman at the press conference said the environmental group this weekend would run newspaper advertisements hammering Ford Motor Co., maker of the Explorer SUV, one the best selling U.S. vehicles.
"Nearly a century ago, Ford's Model T got 25 miles to the gallon," a copy of the ad provided to Reuters says. "Today, Ford's cars and trucks average 22.6 miles per gallon, and the Explorer gets just 16 miles per gallon. That's not progress."
Speaking at Detroit-area assembly plant, Ford CEO Bill Ford said on Thursday that "some people would rather garner headlines than to work with us to achieve results."