Unsmogging Maryland

March 11, 1992

Metropolitan Baltimore ranks as the sixth smoggiest region in the nation; the Washington metropolis is No. 10. Not only does this pose a health hazard for Marylanders, smog is a major factor in polluting the Chesapeake Bay. Cleaning up Maryland's air should be a top priority.

One sensible step would be to adopt tougher tailpipe emissions standards for motor vehicles. The House of Delegates is debating such a proposal right now. Last week, a House committee approved the "California cars" bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 20-3. The measure stands a good chance of passing the full House, but could encounter rough waters in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee where Chairman Walter Baker seems oblivious to the dangers of auto pollution.

Adopting the California tailpipe emissions standards would hardly be precipitous. It would not go into effect until the 1998 model year unless Pennsylvania, Delaware and Northern Virginia adopted similar anti-pollution laws at an earlier date. And by that time, most of the cost and technical problems should be solved.

A dozen Eastern states have pledged to adopt the tough California clean-air law, which would cut current Maryland auto emissions levels by 75 percent. There is an economic incentive to act promptly. Within two years, Maryland must submit a smog-reduction plan that meets federal ozone-pollution standards. Not imposing tighter tailpipe controls could force the state to crack down hard on industrial emissions to avoid hefty penalties. This could lead to plant closings -- especially of older Baltimore facilities -- and a ban on new industries in order to lower smog in the Baltimore-Washington region. The ramifications could be devastating.

Adoption of the California standards, which are more stringent than federal clean-air mandates, would put pressure on neighboring states to follow suit. It also would put more pressure on auto and petroleum companies to come up with low-cost ways to comply with the law.

The huge size of the California car and truck market already is forcing rapid changes in the way Detroit and Big Oil view the tailpipe pollution problem. Maryland's legislators ought to add their voices to the growing number of state officials pushing for a faster clean-up of the atmosphere. The health of our citizens, and the well-being of the bay, are at stake.

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