Naked City

Buy green, drive clean, and park free

Beginning last weekend, the city rolled out its Buy Green, Drive Clean program, rewarding purchasers of fuel-efficient vehicles with $100 worth of free parking in the city. Local and state governments continue to take the lead in addressing auto-related pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the nation's energy crunch, as no-longer-cheap fossil fuels begin to have a broader impact on the economy, exacerbated by supply shortages in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Under Buy Green, Drive Clean, buyers of vehicles rated eight, nine or 10 on the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, and Ford Escape hybrids, not to mention plenty of nonhybrid models, are eligible for the free parking cards, valid in any of the city's 3,700 meters. The program follows the introduction of the city's ambitious program to encourage the production of plug-in hybrid vehicles, as well as last Thursday's Travis and Williamson county emission testing kickoff. (Outside of Austin, states like California, Oregon, and Washington have made sweeping efforts to regulate global warming emissions in new cars.)

Union of Concerned Scientists President Kevin Knobloch said new car buyers "should not be taken in by Detroit's huge discounts on gas guzzlers, but should instead be clear on what they need and then get the most fuel-efficient model that they can." He criticized President Bush recently for "failing to help Americans combat gas shortages and escalating costs at the pump," calling for Bush to set binding targets to dramatically reduce U.S. oil consumption, significantly raise national fuel-economy standards, and abolish federal loopholes that encourage gas guzzling.

The union assailed the recent weak increases in federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, blaming the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers for fighting substantial increases tooth and nail. The UCS argues that the new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration MPG increases for light trucks, SUVs, and vans don't compensate for the existing loopholes that exist for those models. The Alliance cited factors such as technological feasibility, cost, safety, consumer choice, disparate impacts on manufacturers, and effects on American jobs as justification for approaching fuel-economy standards cautiously.

The Alliance also sought to block the breakthrough emissions rules on the West Coast in court, contending that the rules amount to state government interference with fuel economy standards that can only be set by the feds. Spokesman Charlie Territo said, "The Auto Alliance is always opposed to legislative increases to fuel economy," adding that they'd work with the NHTSA to set the standards at "maximum feasibility levels." Six East Coast states are now pursuing the stiff Western emissions measures, limiting carbon dioxide and other emissions in new cars sold after 2016. The UCS is also petitioning Nissan and Hyundai, not currently affiliated with the Auto Alliance, to avoid the group's influence as the two companies develop their own hybrid vehicles. More info at,, and

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