State environmental officials are looking for help from the nation's smoggiest state, California, in battling Maryland's stubborn air-pollution problems.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has endorsed a General Assembly bill introduced by three Montgomery County delegates that would pass up new federal limits on car and truck pollution in favor of more stringent standards imposed by California.
George P. Ferreri, state director of air management, told the House Environmental Matters Committee yesterday that Maryland needs to get tougher on motor vehicle pollution than federal law requires in order to eliminate the smog that plagues the Baltimore and Washington areas every summer.
The legislation is opposed by the auto industry, which wielded enough clout in Congress last year to force a compromise in federal tailpipe emission standards.
Despite substantial progress in reducing air pollution in Maryland in recent years, Ferreri said, "We're still in trouble."
The federal Clean Air Act enacted last year by Congress requires a 15 percent reduction in smog-causing hydrocarbon emissions in the Baltimore area by 1996 and continued reductions every year after that.
"This is going to be very difficult to do," Ferreri warned. "This is not going to be a piece of cake."
Baltimore is among the 10 smoggiest metropolitan areas in the country, ranking with such pollution hot spots as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston. Ozone, the chief pollutant in smog, reached unhealthful levels in Baltimore's air on 11 days last summer.
Ozone is formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from cars and trucks, factories and other sources react with sunlight. At relatively low concentrations, it impairs breathing and irritates the eyes, throat and lungs.
"Our options are limited, and none of them is easy or attractive," said Del. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, one of the bill's sponsors. If motor vehicle pollution is not reduced further, the state will have to crack down harder on industry and small businesses such as bakeries and dry cleaners.
Motor vehicles account for 60 percent of the hydrocarbon emissions that cause smog in Maryland, Ferreri said, and those emissions will grow as state motorists increase their driving by nearly 4 percent a year.
Ferreri predicted that Maryland could reduce its hydrocarbon emissions from cars and trucks by 58 percent by the year 2007 if it adopts California's gradually tightening emission standards. Federal tailpipe limits, by comparison, would reduce emissions by a maximum of 34 percent by the same time under the Clean Air Act.
The state's position was backed by a bevy of environmental groups, which noted that two other states -- Massachusetts and New York -- already have moved to adopt California's emission standards.
"Maryland can't get clean air under the Clean Air Act," said Paul Billings, a spokesman for the American Lung Association. "We ++ need to do a lot more."
The California standards will have no significant impact on cars' fuel efficiency or gas consumption, Walsh said.
Spokesmen for General Motors Corp. and the Motor Vehicles Manufacturing Association, on the other hand, contend there would be "substantial costs and few if any benefits" for Maryland in adopting California's auto emission standards.
"Ninety percent of what this bill does is already in the Clean Air Act," said Stuart A.C. Drake, GM's lawyer.
The GM lawyer suggested that instead of going after motor vehicles, state officials should consider cracking down harder on "stationary" sources of smog, such as factories and businesses.
Drake said cars and trucks manufactured today already meet California's standards, and California's pollution-control program will require cars that burn scarce methanol fuels as well as electric-powered vehicles.
State officials and environmentalists disputed the industry claims. California's emissions standards will mean significantly less pollution from motor vehicles, they said, and research is under way to see if those reductions can be achieved using cars and trucks that burn reformulated gasoline rather than alternative fuels such as methanol.
Michael P. Walsh, a technical consultant for the lung association, said that cars and trucks could meet the tighter tailpipe limits with relatively inexpensive changes in design or equipment. California officials estimate their pollution-control requirements will add about $170 to the price of a new car, he said.