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Oped

Oped/24″/dt1st/LK2nd By ED LAIRD Most conservatives indeed most Americans agree that the less government involvement in life, the better. Government’s role should be limited to establishing laws that protect the common good and supplying essential services, such as defense and infrastructure, which are not provided by the private sector. In California, the state with the nation’s poorest air quality, government has set air-quality goals to protect its citizens and meet federal health-based guidelines. These appropriate government goals are spurring economic growth in the emerging clean, electric transportation industry. There are plenty of reasons to support this private-sector investment. It will reduce California’s and the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, thereby enhancing national security. Developing new technologies is preferable to other government-imposed pollution reduction options that constrain personal choice and small business. Focusing on the largest air polluters is the fair, equitable and cost-effective approach. Citizens pay the price of dirty air with costly health care and environmental cleanup. Investing in clean transportation will help reduce these costs. Finally, the electric transportation industry will provide jobs, position the state for global competition, and support a healthy environment for current and future generations. Each year, the United States spends more than $28 billion on oil for transportation purposes, much of it from foreign nations over which we have little control. America must wean itself from its foreign oil dependency. It must develop its own energy independence to remain strong and maintain its position as the world’s superpower. Investing in electric transportation can help break the cycle of overseas oil dependence. Even America’s domestic oil resources are threatened. Analysts predict that domestic production in Alaska and off California’s shores – will decline by 2 percent to 3 percent annually over the next two decades. The inverse relationship between U.S. oil consumption and U.S. oil production portends trouble. Considering the instability of world oil markets and the costs the U.S. government incurs defending and securing petroleum, it is unwise to continue depending exclusively on and investing in a fuel that has finite reserves. Two-thirds of California’s smog comes from mobile sources such as cars, trucks and off-road vehicles. Historically, however, stationary sources such as manufacturers, power plants, dry cleaners and restaurants have borne the brunt of the cleanup burden because their emissions are easier to identify and control. It is time for the primary polluters to accept responsibility for their part of the pollution puzzle. Investing in electric or alternative fuel transportation offers a preferred alternative to government command-and-control behavior modification, which most Americans find distasteful, if not unacceptable. Technology solutions are always preferable, and government programs that help develop technology through market-based solutions are gaining favor. We must all breathe, regardless of where we live or travel. Electric vehicles, which are 97 percent cleaner than even the cleanest gasoline cars on the road today, will help clean the air. The California Air Resources Board reports that 90 percent of Californians breathe dirty air and live in regions that fail to meet health-based air quality standards. Children under 14, seniors and those with heart-lung disease are most at risk. In November 1997, Kaiser Foundation Research Institute released a significant study showing a direct correlation between hospital admissions and air pollution in the Los Angeles Air Basin. Hospital admissions for chronic respiratory disease rose 7 percent for every 10-microgram increase in particulate pollution. Admissions also rose 3.5 percent for acute respiratory illnesses and 3 percent for those with cardiovascular disease. The cost of respiratory care in a hospital averages $920 a day; the average stay is seven days. Air pollution is an international problem. Cities around the world are grappling with public health regulations and taking a hard-line approach aimed at limiting consumer behavior. These overseas regulations, together with domestic market incentives, are spurring opportunities for the more than 100 California businesses serving the electric transportation industry. General Motors has predicted a global market for EV-propulsion systems of $25 million a year by 2005. Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca opened a California company to build and market electric bikes overseas. Thousands of former California defense and aerospace workers are designing, building and assembling EV components and developing operations, maintenance and service infrastructure to support the new industry. As the industry expands, technologies developed for EVs may find applications in consumer electronics and computers, in environmental technologies or in scientific research and development. Likewise, further research on hybrid and fuel-cell technologies will spur additional innovations that will employ Californians and position the state to continue its leadership role in the advanced transportation industry. Individuals, business and government must work together to jump-start this new technology. Private-public partnerships make sense in the name of national security and public health, and in the spirit of maintaining our nation’s and our state’s role as world leaders in technological innovation. Ed Laird is president of Coatings Resource Corp. and AQC Environmental Engineering. He is also head of the Small Business Coalition of Southern California, and represented business on the RECLAIM Project of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

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