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LIGHT TRUCKS TOP GROUP'S LIST OF GAS GUZZLERS, POLLUTERS

Light trucks were the worst gas guzzlers and polluters among 1994 cars and other vehicles, according to a group urging consumers to drive green.

The 1.5-liter Honda Civic CX and the 2.3-liter Oldsmobile Achieva were two of the top performers in "The Green Buyer's Car Book" released this month by the Public Citizen consumer group.Each model was judged on a combination of four factors: smog and carbon monoxide emissions; global warming caused by fuel consumption; use of ozone-depleting chemicals; and recyclability.

The vehicles that are worst for the environment, according to the guide, are light trucks. The worst among them are the 3.9-liter Land Rover Defender 90, the 4.3-liter Chevrolet S10 Blazer with four-wheel drive, and the 4.3-liter GMC Jimmy with four-wheel drive.

Only one of the 20 lowest-ranking vehicles was a car. It was one version of the Pontiac Sunbird, which scored poorly in part because it still has a high-polluting air conditioner that most manufacturers have replaced with a cleaner cooler.

The "greenest" vehicles are three versions of the Geo Metro topped by the Metro FXi, the 1.5-liter Honda Civic CX and the 2.3-liter Oldsmobile Achieva.

Public Citizen officials said buying a green car can make a difference.

"A knowledgeable consumer can have clout in the marketplace," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

"Armed with precise information, prospective car buyers can find vehicles that meet their standards on environmental impact as well as the other qualities that they desire. Information empowers consumers and leads manufacturers to meet this demand."

A U.S. automakers' trade group, however, criticized the report, saying it was an attempt to get the federal government to dictate which vehicles consumers can drive.

"If Public Citizen had its way, everyone in America would drive a small, non-air-conditioned, manual-shift, subcompact car," the American Automobile Manufacturers Association said in a statement. "The fact that all vehicles in this class represent less than 2 percent of sales makes it clear the overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with Public Citizen's priorities."

Another consumer group said the guide shows that a fuel-efficient model can have a high level of tailpipe pollutants.

The Coalition for Vehicle Choice, which opposes increased fuel economy standards for automobiles, also pointed out that the most fuel-efficient vehicles often are the smallest and have higher fatality rates.

"Consumers should rightfully ask Public Citizen, `Which is more important: fuel economy, reducing smog levels or protecting one's life in the event of a crash?"' said Diane Steed, the coalition's president. "Each criterion will result in a different top 20 list."

The study's authors said similar vehicles can have dramatically different ratings.

Public Citizen said Mazda and Hyundai refused to cooperate with researchers, so their models aren't included in the book.