Permits pose pressing problem Printers say state process takes too much valuable time.

July 15, 1991|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

David B. Baker Jr., the owner of Reese Press, agrees that Maryland should act to improve its air quality.

The Baltimore area has had unhealthful levels of ground-level ozone pollution or smog on six days so far this year, making it one of the 10 smoggiest cities in the country.

Breathing smog is especially hazardous to young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems.

But Baker and others in the state's printing industry do not agree with the way the state is carrying out Maryland's air quality regulations. He says it should not take two to six months, or longer, to get state approval of an application allowing a company to install a printing press.

Printers are just one industry in the state required to register equipment that may cause smog. Printers have been required to register presses since 1972. Smaller presses such as those used at quick copy firms are exempt.

Under the federal Clean Air Act enacted last year to reduce sources of smog, the state is required to limit the amount of volatile organic compounds -- such as gasoline vapors -- released into the atmosphere.

A permit is required for such things as gasoline storage tanks, dry-cleaning machines, incinerators and chemical-processing equipment used by photographers.

Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Environment, said the department responsible for issuing the permits receives from 30 to 50 applications a month, of which about two are from printers.

Sullivan said the department, Air Management Administration, has a staff of 10 people. Five workers are responsible for initially processing the applications and the remaining five review the contents of the applications. On average, he said, it takes nine weeks to process most applications.

"You can't run a business waiting on a bureaucrat to process something," said Baker. "Time means nothing to these people but it means everything to a businessman."

The Baltimore printer is among a number of small- and medium-size printers in the state complaining that applications to install new or used printing presses are complicated and cumbersome. Baker said he had to pay a consultant $400 to prepare what turned out to be a 51-page application. He needs the permit to install a used two-color press that he is buying for $400,000 from an Oklahoma printer.

"Why is [Gov. William Donald] Schaefer running around the world on trade missions trying to get business for the state, when he has a printer here who can't do business because of this process," Baker said. "I don't have a problem with improving the environment but the process should take a matter of days, not months."

Art Stowe, president of the Printing Industries of Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania, said most air pollution created by the printing industry is caused when chemicals in ink are released during a drying process. Heatset web presses, which use a quick drying method and vent the vapor through a stack or exhaust fan, release higher levels of volatile organic compounds than non-heatset presses. Of the 200 printer members in the association, only about five use heatset web presses, Stowe said.

For non-heatset printing, minimal amounts of the compounds are released into the atmosphere through a normal evaporation process, he said.

Stowe said printing presses generally are low pollutant machines and shouldn't have to go through the same tedious process as it might take to register, for example, an incinerator.

The wait for permits can be expensive for small printers who can't afford to pay for presses and then not have use of them for up to six months, Stowe said. He said in the last year about 25 to 30 printers have called the association to complain about the state's backlog.

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.

Under the Clean Air Act, printers adding new presses must reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals by 30 percent overall. Similar reductions will be required for other businesses.

The legislation, which represents the first tightening of air pollution laws since 1977, imposed new requirements on utilities, factories and thousands of small businesses in an effort to curb smog, toxic chemical releases and pollution that causes acid rain.

In a letter given to applicants, the state says the review procedure "can be time-consuming and complex in many cases."

"We process applications on a first-come, first-serve basis and we do it in a timely manner as much as we possibly can," Sullivan said.

Not true, says Joseph Loveland, production services manager for Port City Press Inc. in Pikesville.

Loveland said that in September 1990 he submitted an application for a new $1.5 million Timson press the company had on order from England.

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