Baltimore area residents should be able to breathe more freely once sweeping new federal clean air legislation takes effect. But many of the benefits and costs of the bill enacted by Congress over the weekend may not be felt until well into the next decade.
The Baltimore metropolitan area -- one of the 10 smoggiest in the country -- will have up to 17 years to achieve federal standards for healthy air, Maryland officials say.
Ozone, the chief ingredient in smog, can scar lungs and cause breathing difficulties on hot summer days.
Baltimore and its suburbs, like more than 100 other metropolitan areas, must reduce smog-causing pollutants by 15 percent in the next six years, and by 3 percent a year after that until federal standards are reached.
Environmentalists say that while the new law should yield significant reductions in acid rain and toxic pollution, the drive to squelch smog may fall short because Congress relaxed the proposed requirements for reducing auto tailpipe emissions.
"The auto companies were let off too easily," contended Ed Barks, spokesman for the National Clean Air Coalition, a group of environmental and health groups that lobbied for stiff pollution controls.
Tailpipe emissions will have to be reduced 35 to 60 percent, but Congress pushed back the deadline to 1998 and dropped the requirement for an automatic second round of tailpipe controls and for sales of private vehicles that run on alternative fuels in smoggy cities like Baltimore.
"Fewer people will be sick for it, but it's not complete," said David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He predicted that Congress would have to step in with new auto pollution controls before the new law runs its course.
The Clean Air Act revision will mandate what Maryland's legislature refused to require earlier this year -- that gas pumps in the Baltimore and Washington areas sprout new nozzles with accordion-shaped plastic gaskets designed to catch fuel vapors.
Gasoline evaporation during refueling is the single largest uncontrolled source of smog-causing pollutants in the state, say state environmental officials. But the legislature rejected Gov. William Donald Schaefer's bid to require vapor-catching nozzles after service station owners complained that the devices would cost up to $60,000 per station and that motorists dislike them.
Crown Central Petroleum Corp., a locally based gasoline marketer and refiner, is planning to spend $150 million over the next five years to fit its service stations with vapor-control systems and to produce cleaner-burning gasoline.
The new law also requires that such "reformulated" gasoline be sold in Baltimore and the eight other smoggiest cities by 1995. But oil industry officials say they don't know how to make such clean fuel yet, and they also cite potential problems distributing it and storing it in Maryland.
While Maryland businesses may fare better than other states in meeting the new pollution curbs, industry spokesmen warn that the law could cost nearly $900 million and could affect up to 90,000 jobs in the state. Environmentalists say such predictions are grossly exaggerated and cite their own study projecting the cost to be about $20 a month per family by the year 2005.
But the burden may not fall evenly, business spokesmen say. Some Maryland industries will have a head-start on out-of-state competition because of the state's already stringent toxic air pollution regulations, said Ernie Kent, vice president of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce.
Still, Kent said, "I can see some small businesses, especially in this economy, closing as a result."
"It sounds brutal," agreed Art Stowe, president of the Printing Industries of Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania. "It's going to be a very expensive bill for the printing industry."
Under the new law, printers adding new presses must reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals by 30 percent overall. In other words, to add a new operation releasing 100 tons of pollutants a year, a company must reduce total emissions by 130 tons.
Similar reductions will be required on an array of other businesses, including commercial bakeries, dry cleaners and other activities not generally considered as major sources of pollution.
Meanwhile, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. engineers are trying to figure out the least costly way of curbing emissions that cause acid rain from two of its coal-burning power plants in the Baltimore area.
BG&E has to reduce the 26,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emitted from its C.P. Crane power plant in eastern Baltimore County by 23 percent by 1995 and by more than 60 percent by the end of the decade, according to Jack Lodge, clean-air issues manager.
The utility also must reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions elsewhere by another 11,000 tons per year to offset the start-up next year of another new coal-burning boiler at its Brandon Shores power plant in northern Anne Arundel County.