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More cities and towns offer incentives to drive 'green'

Wilmette, Ill., is the latest to offer perks for environmentally friendly autos, but the move is largely symbolic.

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Its ordinance may not have the reach of California's tough vehicle-emissions standards or of the federal tax deductions for hybrid buyers, but the town of Wilmette – a well-heeled suburb on Chicago's North Shore – is making its own small effort to reward residents who think "green" when they buy cars.

On Tuesday night, village board members decided to raise Wilmette's vehicle sticker fee from $50 to $75 – except for drivers whose cars are environmentally friendly enough to qualify for either a $25 or $50 discount.

The new ordinance puts Wilmette and its 28,000 residents in the ranks of other towns and cities that have found their own ways to encourage greener vehicles.

"I know people aren't going to decide to buy a particular car because they get a $25 break on the vehicle sticker, but it's getting discussion going," says Lali Watt, a Wilmette board member who chairs the finance committee. "It's raising awareness, giving kudos to people who are doing the right things, and really putting the word out there that there isn't this huge choice you have to make between being environmental or not."

Other cities' incentives

The sticker-fee break, pegged to an EPA designation that ranks a car's air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, is an unusual approach. Other cities – among them Salt Lake City; San Antonio, Texas; New Haven, Conn.; and Ferndale, Mich. – are offering free parking within city limits for hybrids or other green cars. More than 300 American towns and cities have pledged to meet the Kyoto Protocol goals for reducing carbon-dioxide pollution. (In the US, tailpipe emissions account for about 22 percent of CO2.)

"As Washington has had its head in the sand about global warming and new energy choices, it's really up to the states and local governments," says Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club's Illinois chapter. "And gestures like the one Wilmette is doing, it's a small reward to consumers who make the right choices, but it's a big signal to the world that they want to be part of the solution."

Voices of displeasure

Not everyone is happy about the new ordinance.

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