- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two Michigan Democrats are leading an effort to create charging stations for electric cars in the Capitol complex.

Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Dale E. Kildee have offered plans in the House and Senate that would task the architect of the Capitol to install electric vehicle recharge stations for lawmakers, congressional staffers and others authorized to park in the Capitol complex.

With the costs of developing, installing and maintaining the system covered by user fees, Mr. Levin said, the plan won’t cost taxpayers a penny and could help jolt the nation “toward a future liberated from imported oil.”

“It would ensure that the Senate leads by example as we transition to a clean-energy future,” Mr. Levin said when he rolled out his plan last month. “While these vehicles are an important part of our future, they will bring changes in how we think about cars and driving. Instead of looking for gas stations, drivers will need charging stations where they can replenish the batteries that power their vehicles.”

Critics of Mr. Levin’s plan said the move smacked of hypocrisy.

“Senators vote for an electric vehicle recharging station in the parking garage … like somehow any of those guys is ever going to drive an electric vehicle except as part of a news conference,” said Michael McKenna, a GOP strategist and energy lobbyist. “The truth of the matter is, and everybody who lives and works around these guys knows the truth of the matter, most of them are driven around in great big giant Suburbans.”

Mr. Levin’s office said the senator does not drive a Suburban or other large SUV. He drives a hybrid gas-electric vehicle, as do other lawmakers who have signed off on the proposal.

The Levin proposal, which passed out of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee last week, is in line with President Obama’s goal of 1 million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015 and his “green fleet initiative,” which requires most new vehicles for government use to be fuel-efficient or use clean energy by 2015. The president’s limousine and some Secret Service vehicles are exempt.

Other Democratic efforts to make the Capitol greener have met with mixed results.

As House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, introduced a “Green the Capitol” initiative that included climate-friendly vending machines and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Since taking back the House this year, Republicans have phased out parts of Mrs. Pelosi’s program by reintroducing plastic foam cups for coffee in the Capitol cafeteria and putting the brakes on a program that promoted the use of biodegradable utensils and trays made of cornstarch.

Mr. Levin and Mr. Kildee are proposing the program as lawmakers grapple with the best ways to cut the country’s dependence on foreign oil and aim to reduce the more than $4-a-gallon gas prices in some parts of the country.

Last week, Sens. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, and Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, hopped onto the electric-car bandwagon by introducing a proposal that would create temporary “deployment communities” across the country that would provide short-term incentives for rapid development and production of electric vehicles.

“With gas prices again surging, every American understands all too well the price we pay for our addiction to imported oil,” Mr. Merkley said. “A third of all oil is burned in cars, so the rapid deployment of electric vehicles can be a major tool in breaking that addiction. We win three ways: by strengthening our national security, by keeping our energy dollars at home creating American jobs, and by improving our environment.

CORRECTION: A headline on an earlier posted version of this story incorrectly suggested that the sponsors of the charging station measure drove gas-guzzling cars. The sponsors all drive hybrid gas-electric vehicles. The Times regrets the error.