Air pollution gets a `yes' vote

Fuel efficiency: U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski gives aid to enemies of the environment.

March 18, 2002

YOU CAN'T have it both ways, Ms. Mikulski.

You can't be a champion for clean air and water, protector of the Chesapeake Bay and the hills of Western Maryland, a senator with a 100 percent favorable rating in 2001 from the League of Conservation Voters -- and then vote to nix a bill that would have required higher fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles.

Sure, you explained last week that you voted "no" because you worried that General Motors -- which had lobbied hard against the provision -- wouldn't be able to meet the new standards and might therefore shutter its Broening Highway plant, costing Maryland some 1,500 jobs.

But even if GM were to have a hard time throttling its gas guzzlers to meet the new standards, it wouldn't necessarily mean the end of Broening Highway. The company would still be producing cars, and the advantages state officials tout about Broening Highway would be no less relevant. Conversely, GM officials have indicated that the plant could close regardless of new fuel-efficiency standards.

So you have traded the possibility of saving some jobs at the Broening Highway plant for the absolute reality of continuing reliance on foreign oil and increasing air pollution.

Now, GM and other car companies will continue to produce mammoth vehicles that get obscenely low gas mileage. The resulting pollutants are helping to make this one of the country's worst areas for air quality. Last summer, you'll remember, Maryland had several "code red" ozone days. And take a look out over the horizon near the Chesapeake Bay and see the hazy, brownish gunk that hovers in the air we breathe.

Even if 1,500 auto plant jobs were truly at stake in this bill, saving them wouldn't be worth it. That's an indefensible political calculation -- one we hope you won't make again. Because you're a senator who has established an impressive record on the environment and preservation of our natural resources, we feel justified in expecting a little more from you.

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