Saturday, November 08, 2008

NY Times

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Published: November 8, 2008

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his grand plan to make New York City “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city,” he offered a banquet of 127 excellent ideas. They included congestion pricing, more parks, windmills to produce energy and a promise to plant one million trees in the next 10 years. But as he has learned since that heady day more than a year ago, greening the apple is not automatic. York’s backward State Legislature stepped on his forward-thinking plan for congestion pricing. More recently, a federal judge blocked Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal to replace gas-guzzling taxis with cleaner hybrid cabs by 2012. Congestion pricing is still worth the effort, and we expect Mr. Bloomberg to regroup and move forward on these important initiatives, even if he has to use slightly different methods.

He already has shown that he can come up with inventive ways to outwit Albany. Because it involves a fee and not a tax, his proposal to charge 6 cents for each plastic bag sold in the city would not need state approval. There may be some opposition in the City Council, but this would definitely help not only the budget but the city’s environment, since these dreadful little conveniences can last for hundreds of years, kill wildlife, clog landfills and spread litter across the urban landscape.

He’ll have to be equally creative to achieve his objective of replacing the city’s entire fleet of 13,000 yellow cabs with hybrids. These boxy new vehicles emit far fewer pollutants and use far less gasoline than the lumbering Ford Crown Victorias favored by many taxi owners (and some of their larger customers).

In response to a lawsuit from the taxi companies, Judge Paul Crotty, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, blocked the mayor’s plan. Mr. Bloomberg had sought to impose tougher fuel-efficiency standards as a way to force the owners to buy hybrids, but Judge Crotty ruled, correctly, that only the federal government can set mileage standards.

Congress could solve the problem by amending the law to allow cities to set their own fuel-efficiency standards. But since that is highly unlikely, Mr. Bloomberg will have to come at the problem from a different angle. One possibility worth exploring is to offer special incentives, like lower fees, to owners who adopt hybrids.

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