Md. businesses expect new costs from Clean Air Act

October 29, 1990|By Phillip Davis

Remember the vapor-recovery gas pump nozzle -- environmentally elegant but awkward to use, and ultimately axed by the General Assembly?

Thanks to the Clean Air Act, which passed both House and Senate over the weekend, the accordion-like nozzles are coming to Maryland after years of debate about them -- along with a myriad of other anti-pollution devices and regulations.

But environmentalists caution that it will be years before many of the federal act's provisions begin to take effect. Even if President Bush signs the bill as expected this week, most changes will not occur before 1992.

"We've lived with smog for decades, but it won't go away overnight," said Daniel Pontious, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.

The Clean Air Act aims within six years to lower by 15 percent the amount of smog-causing pollution -- chemicals ranging from gasoline additives to dry-cleaning fluid -- emitted into the air. It also forces the reduction of toxic pollutants in the air, such as carbon monoxide from auto exhausts and sulfur dioxide, a byproduct of steelmaking and burning of coal.

Smog, containing ozone and other reactive chemical compounds, can scar lungs and cause difficulty in breathing. Sulfur dioxide has similar effects and can aggravate asthma. Carbon monoxide interferes with the body's absorption of oxygen and can lead to brain damage.

Expectation of passage of the act had already prompted some changes in the Baltimore area -- a region with air quality rated among the 10 worst in the country this year by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Within six months, motorists at the newest gas stations will begin to see the vapor-recovery nozzles. These are intended to reduce smog produced when the volatile chemicals in gasoline evaporate during the filling of a tank and then interact with sunlight.

Within four years of the new law's signing, all stations must have the nozzles.

Locally based Crown Central Petroleum Corp. is beginning to put in the plumbing for the new pumps at some of its 120 stations in the Baltimore-Washington region -- at a cost of $40,000 to $60,000 a station, said Tom Lattanzi, director of corporate relations.

In addition to the new nozzles, motorists may see gas prices climb still faster, Mr. Lattanzi said, estimating that the new regulations could add 5 to 12 cents to the price of each gallon of gas.

"How much is the public willing to pay for clean air?" he wondered. State officials estimate the increase will be closer to a penny a gallon.

With gas stations the major culprit in smog formation, vapor recovery "is the single most cost-effective way of stopping hydrocarbon emissions," said George Ferreri, director of the state's Air Management Administration.

Gasoline dealers are not alone in making plans to meet new clean air regulations.

In Fullerton, the Schmidt Baking Co. has found that its vats of fermenting yeast throw off a form of ethyl alcohol, a pollutant that can be a contributor to smog. The bakery is now considering installing equipment over its ovens to cut emissions, President Thomas S. Bowyer Jr. said. "It could be costly -- $50,000 to $300,000 per bakery," he said. "But the law doesn't take effect [immediately]. We have time to comply with it."

And Charles E. Mitchell, vice president of Lord Baltimore Cleaners, has found that new dryers that prevent a toxic dry-cleaning solvent from seeping into the air are paying for themselves. The reclaimed cleaning fluid can be used over and over again, he said.

"Every problem presents a solution," Mr. Mitchell said philosophically.

Compliance with the Clean Air Act will affect the bottom lines of small businesses and behemoths alike.

"Some 65,000 to 90,000 jobs in Maryland could be affected," said Alan Bernstein, director of health and safety projects for CONSAD Research Corp., an industry-sponsored think tank in Pittsburgh.

The CONSAD study done earlier this year looked at possible layoffs, reductions in working hours and reassignments, but it did not examine the potential economic growth spawned by the regulations, Mr. Bernstein said.

In small facilities that will have to install anti-pollution devices to receive operating permits, 37,000 workers could face job changes. In companies forced to comply with provisions on toxic air pollutants and acid rain provisions, up to 60,000 workers could be affected, he said.

The Clean Air Working Group, a consortium of energy, chemical and utility companies in Washington, has estimated that the new law will cost Maryland businesses $285 million annually to meet the toxic air pollution provisions, $153 million a year to reduce acid rain emissions and $433 million a year to cut back on smog-producing pollutants.

"The future growth of Baltimore may be completely determined by the Clean Air Act," said William Fay, the group's administrator. "We're worried this bill will stifle companies' ability to modernize facilities in Baltimore or build new factories."

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