Less Hot Air on Auto Emissions

February 14, 1992

When you sum up the arguments being offered against Maryland's acceptance of a nine-state agreement to adopt California's new auto-emissions standard, it comes down to: try something else first. That's not surprising, when the opposition comes from automakers, car dealers and the oil industry. What is surprising, considering Maryland's plan, is that the chief complainers have already agreed to do most of what regulators seek.

California is a big state. Its air-quality program already has forced automakers to install different anti-pollution technology on cars. Thus, authorities say, 40 percent of the cars on Maryland's roads are "50-state" certified, i.e., good enough for California's existing standards, too. Now the issue is whether there will be another Maryland upgrade to match California's new standards.

Car dealers fear a competitive disadvantage favoring Virginia dealers, since Virginia this week rejected the new standards. Yet any Marylander buying an out-of-state auto that does not meet the new emissions standard would have to add Maryland-required pollution controls. And manufacturers are far more likely to deliver cars certified for 50 states, i.e., meeting federal standards as well as California's, than a California-only car. Look at all those 50-state cars already in Maryland.

Refiners have also agreed, via negotiated EPA regulations, to reformulate gasoline to the new standards. Maryland authorities are confident they can get enough emissions reductions with "federal" fuel without going to "California" gasoline. They say their fuel-effects study shows the California-certified car will run on "federal" fuel, eliminating 95 percent of its objectionable tailpipe emissions. That only makes sense, since many California motorists will drive extensively outside their state.

Maryland's program, then, has three elements: Cleaner auto technology; cleaner (federal) gas; and a beefed-up system of emissions testing and maintenance requirements. That will not only accelerate getting older vehicles off the road, it will prevent deterioration of the newer Low Emissions Vehicles' protections.

Since auto pollution is a 57-percent component of the volatile organic compounds causing Maryland's smog, tougher standards are crucial to comply with federal mandates. They also would help the Chesapeake, since the standards clamp down on nitrogen oxides, the chief culprit acidifying bay rainfall. The administration's emissions-control bill should put fears to rest, not spark new ones.

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