Automakers threw their support behind Energy Efficient Technology Tax Act of 1999, the bill introduced last week by Congressman Robert T. Matsui (D-CA) that would provide consumers with tax incentives to purchase electric or fuel cell-powered vehicles. The industry long has argued such subsidies will be needed to get the public interested in buying alternatively powered vehicles.

The legislation promises to reduce energy costs for American consumers and businesses, and cut the amount of overall carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change. The concentration of greenhouse gases, caused by burning fossil fuels and deforestation, is 30% higher than it was at the beginning of the industrial revolution, and experts predict that it will double by the year 2100, Rep. Matsui says. The bill would make $3.6 billion available in tax incentives over five years in the four major carbon-emitting economic sectors — buildings, industry, transportation and electricity.

The Matsui package includes a tax credit for hybrid vehicles, from $250 to $3,000 depending on the vehicle's energy efficiency. The credit would be in effect from 2003 to 2006. In addition, the legislation would extend the present tax credit (a 10% credit up to $4,000) for electric and fuel cell vehicles through the year 2006. Under present law, these credits are set for a phase-down beginning 2002 and elimination in 2005.