- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland officials are exploring ways to make the state’s fleet of 9,000 vehicles cleaner, possibly by buying more hybrid cars and vehicles that use biodiesel fuel.

The state has 30 hybrid vehicles in its fleet. To accelerate state efforts to reduce pollution, Comptroller Peter Franchot pushed to encourage the state to buy more hybrids during a recent meeting of the Board of Public Works. Mr. Franchot, a Democrat, asked about the feasibility of making hybrid vehicles comprise 20 percent of new car purchases for the state. He said the state should try to lead by example and set a goal “without breaking the bank.”

“We want to be fiscally prudent,” Mr. Franchot said.

Despite legislation and pronouncements aimed at cutting pollution and saving energy, Mr. Franchot said he thinks the state isn’t moving fast enough to pursue an “ongoing desire to make Maryland the greenest state in the country.”

The discussion arose as the board considered motor vehicle standards for the state fleet. Mr. Franchot asked whether the board could use the standards to encourage the purchase of cleaner vehicles like hybrids. Without using binding language, Mr. Franchot said he was interested in the board expressing “serious interest” in the number of hybrids purchased by state agencies.

David Romans, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Budget and Management, said the agency was willing to work with the board in its pursuit. While the Maryland Department of General Services buys the state’s vehicles, the budget and management department sets the standards for them and oversees compliance with federal standards. Mr. Romans said the department is studying the matter for the board’s next meeting.

He said there are two basic challenges for boosting the number of hybrid cars. First, there are federal rules requiring a certain amount of vehicles to use alternative fuels, and the federal government doesn’t consider hybrids to be alternative fuel vehicles.

“We don’t want to fail to meet the federal rules, because there are sanctions if you fail to meet the federal rules,” Mr. Romans said in an interview.

Mr. Romans also said hybrids may not be appropriate for the needs of the Maryland State Police.

While Transportation Secretary John Porcari noted at the meeting that hybrids are “considerably more expensive,” he said the department does have some hybrid passenger vehicles.

“It’s a relatively small number at the present time,” Mr. Porcari said. “Maybe more importantly for the Maryland Transit Administration, we’re evaluating the purchase of hybrid vehicles for future fleet needs.” Mr. Porcari also told the board his department is looking into vehicles that use biodiesel.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who is on the board with Mr. Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, signed a measure this year requiring cars sold in Maryland to meet stricter emissions rules starting in model year 2011.

The board put off making a decision on the vehicle standards until its Aug. 22 meeting to have more time to consider them.

“The goal, when we look at this, it’ll be reducing our carbon footprint from the 9,000 vehicles that do the work of the people of our state through their state government,” Mr. O’Malley said.