Bill Would Extend Clean Air Surcharge To More Counties

A Fee For Cars Beyond Baltimore, D.c. Areas

February 13, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — No Maryland resident who owns a vehicle should be exempt from paying a fair share for clean air, especially since federal money for statewide transportation improvements is tied to complying with pollutionstandards, says a Carroll delegate.

Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, is sponsoring a bill that would require all Maryland residents registering their vehicles or renewing their registrationto pay a "clean air surcharge" to finance the state's Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program. The bill is designed so many rural dwellers would be assessed considerably less than suburban and urban residents.

Currently, only residents in the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas pay for the program. They are charged $8.50 every two years when their vehicles are tested for pollution emission levels at state inspection stations, as mandated by Maryland law.

The House Environmental Matters Committee will have a hearing on Elliott's bill tomorrow, concurrent with an administration bill that would extend Maryland's vehicle inspection program beyond 1991. Elliott's bill is contingent upon extension of the program, which began in 1984.

In a report to the General Assembly, the state Department of Transportationsaid new mandates established as amendments to the federal Clean AirAct will require upgrading and extending the program. The new federal law will require adding seven counties to the area where testing ismandated, DOT reports.

The program now covers Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- where automobile exhaust concentrations are highest. It would be expanded to cover Allegany, Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Queen Anne's and Washington counties, says DOT.

However, the governor's bill does not specify counties to be added to the program, requiring only that the program comply with the Clean AirAct.

Elliott said the other nine Maryland counties -- mostly on the Eastern Shore -- where inspections are not required should contribute to the program through the registration surcharge because those jurisdictions benefit from improved air quality and road projects. About $145 million in federal transportation aid for 1991 and 1992 had been tied to compliance with the clean air law.

"I'm just looking for fairness," said Elliott, whose similar proposal was defeated in 1988. "Some people have to go through this test and pay every two years, while others do nothing."

DOT, assigned to study financing alternatives for the program in 1988, found that meeting costs through a registration surcharge rather than payment upon inspection would be "feasible."

DOT estimates the surcharge would be $4.11 for every vehicle registered in the program area in fiscal 1992, including the seven counties that could be added.

Under Elliott's proposal, counties not included in the program area would have a prorated surcharge based on vehicle registration figures and commuting patterns. The prorated surcharge would reflect the degree to which the vehicles registered in each county contribute to exceeding federal air quality standards in the program area. Annual payments would range from 1 cent per registered vehicle in Wicomico County to 42 cents in Somerset County, DOT estimates.

"People from St. Mary's County don't come into Annapolis by horse and buggy," Elliott said.

The agency said a flat, statewide surcharge of $3.80 on all registered vehicles would be sufficient to cover the program in 1992.

The administration and the Maryland Department of the Environment would be authorized to set the amount of the surcharge each year to pay for the program.

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