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Environmental group wants more electric cars, higher fuel standards

Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center said Wednesday it wants Marylanders to reduce their oil consumption by 1 billion gallons by 2030 by relying more on electric cars and public transportation.

The advocacy organization released a plan Wednesday that also calls on the federal government to set higher fuel efficiency standards to help reach that goal.

“The cost of our oil dependence has grown out of control, from the outrageous price we pay at the pump, to the pollution of the air that we breathe, to catastrophic accidents like the gulf oil spill and our contribution to global warming,” said Foster Hardiman, the clean-cars organizer for Environment Maryland, in a news conference outside of the advocacy group’s office on St. Paul Street in Baltimore. An electric car, a 2011 Chevrolet Volt, was on display in the background. “Today’s report shows how we can get Maryland closer to the day when we will no longer fear the impact of big oil on our paychecks, our environment and public health,” he said.

Hardiman said the reduction Environment Maryland is pursuing would save the average Maryland family about $9,000 over their vehicle’s lifetime. He said Environment Maryland is working to push the administration of President Barack Obama toward raising fuel efficiency standards to 62 miles per gallon by 2025 to further increase savings at the pump.

Jill Sorenson, executive director of the Baltimore-Washington Electric Vehicle Initiative, a public-private partnership that promotes the use of electric cars, said reducing U.S. dependence on oil is a cause that both Republicans and Democrats agree on and one that is seeing increasing support from local and national politicians.

“Working with Environment Maryland, there are a number of key initiatives to communicate how important this is across the board,” Sorenson said. “We all get to save money as consumers, there will be fewer emissions, and the quality of life will be higher. We think that cleaner air and fewer pollutants make a difference.”

“We’re employing people, we’re putting technology on the road and at the same time we’re cleaning the environment,” she said.

The news conference also featured a demonstration of the Volt, powered by a charging station provided by Annapolis-based SemaConnect Inc., which produces charging stations that have been installed at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, Salisbury University and other locations throughout the state.

Mahi Reddy, founder, president and chief executive officer of SemaConnect, said he believes prices will drop on electric cars over the next few years, making them accessible to a wider market.

“It’s a leap of faith for us,” Reddy said. “But we’ve made a commitment to building a sustainable business. We believe that this is the future.”

Although those at the news conference acknowledged the higher initial price of electric cars, they said the vehicles are cost-effective over time, as it only costs the equivalent of $1 per gallon to charge a car electronically, while gasoline rates have been around $3.50 per gallon in recent weeks.

“Yes, there are costs associated with early emerging technology,” Sorenson said. “But we’ve found that investing in science and technology has high payoffs. Early investors usually pay a higher cost, but we know the benefits are there.”

Del. Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, said it was a simple case of the benefits outweighing the costs.

“I think it will have a very positive economic impact,” Stein said. “By reducing the consumption of oil and driving more fuel-efficient cars, we can also create local jobs and help grow the market for green jobs. The initial cost is higher but the difference in price is made up over time.”

Other measures the report advocates include building high-speed rail lines connecting major cities and encouraging carpooling, biking and use of public transportation with the hope of reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector by 35 percent by 2030.