New emissions law

January 18, 1991

Unless state officials expand the current auto emissions testing program to include six rural counties, Maryland could lose millions of dollars in federal highway funds. Increased population and motor vehicle use have rendered once-bucolic areas of the state as vulnerable to pollution as more populous cities and towns, where emission testing is already required.

Governor Schaefer is expected to introduce legislation indefinitely extending the seven-year-old emissions testing program, which expires this year. But the Environmental Protection Agency has also identified Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Queen Anne's, Cecil and Washington counties as areas that are no longer entitled to exemption as rural areas from biannual testing. Unless these jurisdictions are added to the testing program, Maryland could find itself in violation of the federal Clean Air Act and thus ineligible for federal highway funds.

Legislators from rural counties are understandably reluctant to impose an additional $8.50 emission testing fee on their constituents, much less the unpredictable cost of mandated repairs to correct any problems that turn up. But the alternative -- losing millions in federal aid for state roads and highways -- is even less palatable, especially at a time when state revenues are already hurting. Lawmakers simply must do the right thing. Clean air is as necessary as safe roads, bridges and highways.

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