HELENA - A Democratic legislator and the governor's office say Montana should follow in California's footsteps by adopting stricter fuel efficiency standards for some cars and trucks.
"We ought to be concerned in Montana for Montana, and we also ought to be concerned for the planet as a whole," Democratic Sen. Ron Erickson of Missoula told a Senate committee Friday.
The measure would make Montana one of more than a dozen states to take on the more stringent California system.
Representatives of Gov. Brian Schweitzer's office testified in support of the change.
In the past, Schweitzer has opposed having Montana set its own fuel efficiency standards, or move away from federally mandated national standards. But now that so many states are adopting the California system, they will have a large enough market share - more than 40 percent - to force the car industry to comply, said the governor's office.
"It's yet another way that Montana can be active in achieving energy security for America," said Eric Stern, spokesman for the governor.
The new law would allow for different standards for trucks and cars, as well as exceptions for vehicles that meet certain weight requirements.
The automobile industry, however, told legislators that the proposed law could limit the cars available to Montanans.
"Your constituents want to buy pickups and SUVs, and if this passes, the manufacturers aren't going to give us pickups and SUVs," said Bruce Spencer of the Montana Automobile Dealers Association.
Lobbyists for the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, General Motors and the Montana Motor Carriers Association also testified against the bill, citing cost and consumer choice as leading concerns.
But supporters said the measure would save Montanans millions of dollars at the pump, and ensure that they have their pick of the best cars on the market.
"What will happen if we don't pass legislation like this is Montana could become a dumping ground for inefficient vehicles," said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center.
The bill comes amid recent activity in California's bid to set even tougher standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions. On Monday, President Obama told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review whether California has authority to impose the stricter standards.