House panel hears arguments over 'California cars'

February 12, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Fresh from a victory in Virginia, auto and oil industry officials urged a House committee yesterday to kill a Schaefer administration bill that would require all new cars sold in Maryland to meet California's stringent tailpipe emission standards.

But state officials, environmentalists and chemical manufacturers argued that Maryland needs the clean-car measure to deal with stubborn air pollution problems in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

In a lengthy House Environmental Matters hearing peppered with slide presentations, bar charts and technical jargon, the two sides tangled over the benefits and costs of requiring "California cars" in Maryland.

Opponents urged legislators to follow the lead of a Virginia Senate committee, which voted Monday to kill a similar bill mandating that "low-emission vehicles" be sold in Northern Virginia.

Spokesmen for auto and oil companies, arguing that the benefits of California cars are negligible while the costs would be "exorbitant," called on Maryland lawmakers to table the bill for further study.

"You don't need to make this decision now," said Alan R. Weverstad, GM's manager of exhaust emission compliance. "You can wait and not hurt yourself."

The automakers' appeal was seconded by a United Auto Workers leader, who warned that 3,700 jobs at General Motors Corp.'s Baltimore assembly plant were at stake.

But proponents argued that Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay already are being hurt by auto pollution. They warned that the state needs to act promptly to avoid a loss of federal funds and other penalties if it fails to come up with a plan to deal with summertime smog.

More than 90 percent of the state's residents are exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone, the chief component in smog, which is formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide combine with the help of the hot summer sun. Up to 25 percent of the nitrogen that is over-enriching the bay falls out of the atmosphere, studies show.

Robert Perciasepe, the state's environment secretary, said he needs legal authority to require California cars in a plan for curbing smog that he must submit to the federal government in two years. The Baltimore area, the sixth smoggiest in the nation, must meet federal ozone pollution standards by 2005.

The governor's bill would require that, starting with the 1996 model year, all new cars and trucks sold in Maryland meet tailpipe emission standards set by California, which are more stringent than those set by the federal government.

"The technology exists," said Mr. Perciasepe, passing around photos of an Oldsmobile that he said already meets the California emission standards with a modified catalytic converter. "The costs are going down every week as the research develops."

Mr. Perciasepe contended that California's low-emission vehicle program will produce cars that are 75 percent cleaner than are now required, for about $170 more than today's cars.

Environmental officials from 12 northeastern states from Maine to Virginia have pledged to adopt the California car program. Massachusetts already has done so by regulation, and other states, including Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as the District of Columbia are moving to follow suit in the next year, state officials say.

But auto and oil executives argued that California cars will reduce hydrocarbon emissions in Maryland by only 1 percent to 2 percent beyond what the federal Clean Air Act already requires.

Fitting cars with electrically preheated catalytic converters and making other changes will add $1,000 to the cost of a new car, they said, which could reduce sales here.

Today in Annapolis

10 a.m.: Board of Public Works meets, State House.

10 a.m.: House and Senate convene, State House.

1 p.m.: Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee considers legislation that would require senators to appoint independent boards to administer senatorial scholarship program, Room 200, Senate Office Building.

1 p.m.: House Judiciary Committee considers legislation that would increase penalties for prison inmates who take correctional employees hostage, Room 120, House Office Building.

1 p.m.: House Economic Matters Committee considers legislation on employee health benefits, Room 150, House Office Building.

There are 55 days remaining in the 1992 General Assembly session.


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