WASHINGTON – Environmentalists tag him as one of the biggest enemies of the green movement in Washington, but Rep. Roscoe Bartlett was the first in Congress — and one of the first in the nation — to trade in his old car for a shiny new gas-and-electric “hybrid.”
It only took one test drive to persuade the Frederick Republican to turn in his Chrysler New Yorker keys for a Toyota Prius.
“The motivation was to make a statement that most conservatives are conscientious of [diminishing] oil reserves,” he said.
The purchase came as surprise to some Maryland environmentalists.
Jon Robinson, a spokesman for the Sierra Club in Maryland, said: “It’s great, but buying a new car doesn’t make one an environmentalist. We don’t want to delude ourselves about the nature of the beast.”
That opinion was echoed by a spokeswoman for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which gave Bartlett a 6 percent rating for his 1999 environmental voting record, one of the lowest rankings in Congress.
“He should support renewable energy policies if he’s interested in going to the next level,” said the spokeswoman Susan Brown.
Bartlett dismisses the criticism of his voting record, which he said reflects an attack on big government, not on conservation.
Although rare on the roads now, hybrids such as the Prius and the Honda Insight are slowly working their way into fast lane. A spokeswoman for Toyota said 57 Priuses were delivered in Maryland in August, the first month of shipping.
The waiting period for the cars can take months, frustrating buyers. But a Toyota spokeswoman
Martha Voss said Bartlett got his car earlier than most because he was on a corporate “VIP” list of less than 50 people that included “lots of West Coast names . including Leonardo DiCaprio.”
Bartlett, whose office said he was the first Marylander to get a Prius, said he asked to be on the corporate list so he would not tie up the waiting list in his district.
Only one other congressman is driving a Prius: Rep. Brian Baird, D- Washington, picked up his aqua-colored model Thursday.
Baird, who has an 88 percent ranking from the Sierra Club, said it is encouraging to see support for the fledgling hybrid-car market from “both sides of the aisle.” But, he said, he and Bartlett did not talk about their purchases ahead of time.
“We know products that can perform well,” Baird said.
Hybrid car sales in the United States currently number less than 5,000, with the Honda Insight edging out the Toyota Prius by about 750 cars. The supply is not likely to increase much in the near future: Toyota expects to ship about 1,000 a month for at least the rest of the year and Honda also plans to keep shipments of its Insight small.