Re-starting 'California Cars'

March 17, 1992

*TC Cleaning Maryland's polluted environment ought to be one of the General Assembly's top priorities as it heads into its final three weeks of activity this session. When the House of Delegates once again takes up a bill today to impose tougher tailpipe emissions standards for 1998 model year cars and trucks, legislators should not hesitate to approve the measure. It is a sensible environmental move and one that makes enormous economic sense, too.

Without "California cars" bill -- so named because it would apply California's low-emission vehicle standards to cars sold in Maryland -- this state's environmental officials might not be able to meet federal anti-smog mandates. They could be forced to clamp stringent limits on industrial pollution instead. That could include a ban on new industries and harsh anti-pollution rules that could force existing industries to curtail operations here.

This is especially worrisome in Baltimore City, where so much of the region's heavy industrial base is located. Yet it was a city Democrat, Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, who provided the crucial vote to kill a Senate clean-air bill last week on the grounds that the measure could cost jobs at the General Motor Corp.'s Broening Highway plant. He needs to take a more careful look at the ramifications of his vote against the bill.

The California cars bill won't add enormous new costs to the price of cars and trucks. At most, independent analysts say the extra anti-pollution equipment will add $200 to the sticker price. And by 1998, rapid advances in technology could lower that expense considerably. Moreover, no one has ever maintained that cleaner tailpipe standards will somehow force GM to curtail production at Broening Highway. It is sheer propaganda.

On the other hand, if the state has to meet federal anti-smog regulations in two years by tightening its existing industrial pollution rules, the Broening Highway plant could be imperiled. Thus, if Senator Hughes wants to help workers at the GM plant retain their jobs, he should reconsider his earlier vote when the House version of the tailpipe emissions bill comes before his committee.

With high smog rates in both the Baltimore and Washington regions, with 600,000 Marylanders suffering from lung diseases, with the highest cancer death rates in the country and with federal mandates requiring the states to take anti-pollution actions, the General Assembly cannot postpone this debate for another year. Detroit already is under the gun to come up with cleaner-burning engines that meet Clean Air Act standards and the even tougher California tailpipe emissions statute.

Maryland ought to join the list, too. Getting rid of smog is a position any sound-thinking politician in Annapolis has to support.

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