Electric Cars Are Sparking A Debate

ELECTRIC VEHICLES, PRIZED for their environmental virtues, hit a pothole last month: Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh publicly fretted about the impact of a grand-scale EV roll-out in "zero-emission states" California, New York, and Massachusetts after 1998. Pollution from manufacturing thousands of large lead-acid batteries, they warned, would offset the benefits of having fewer combustion-engine cars on the roads.

The Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas (EVAA) reacted quickly. To begin with, the association argues, lead-acid batteries will eventually be replaced by nontoxic types. Next year, a General Motors Corp. battery venture called GM Ovonic will ramp up production of nickel-metal hydride batteries at its Dayton pilot plant. Other companies are exploring sodium and lithium alternatives. Moreover, 188 million cars, trucks, and buses on U.S. roads already contain lead batteries, says EVAA Executive Director Robert T. Hayden. "This current inventory of batteries dwarfs all reasonable projections of increases from electric vehicles."

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