Environment secretary declares war on pollution

April 05, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer Laura Lippman of the Annapolis Bureau contributed to this ** article

If "California cars" aren't in the cards to solve Maryland's air pollution problems, how about California lawn mowers?

Robert Perciasepe, Maryland's environment secretary, says he can't wait another year for the legislature to require that lower-polluting cars be sold here.

The state has to start planning now to reduce smog in the Baltimore and Washington areas, he says, so he's looking into squeezing even more pollution out of businesses and regulating everything from gasoline to house paints to lawn mowers.

The Schaefer administration's fiercely contested effort to impose California's stringent tailpipe-emission limits on new cars and trucks stalled last month when the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee defeated it by a single vote.

Since then, the committee's chairman, Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, has switched positions and indicated he'll support some version of the bill next year.

But Mr. Perciasepe, the state's top environmental official, said last week, "I can't sit around and wait 12 months and do nothing. We have to get ready."

If the General Assembly kills the California car bill again next year, Mr. Perciasepe said, he'll have to come up with other ways to reduce ground-level ozone pollution in the summer.

Ozone causes breathing problems, and the Baltimore area's problem is the sixth worst in the nation. Washington is 10th worst.

Federal deadline

Under federal law, the state has until November 1994 to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency a plan for clearing Maryland's air. But Mr. Perciasepe said he must have regulations and programs in place by then to carry out the plan, and it will take at least a year to produce them.

Mr. Perciasepe said he still believes the state will need California-style tailpipe-emission controls -- more stringent than federal requirements -- to meet its air-quality goals by 2005 and beyond.

The measure would produce cars that emit 75 percent fewer hydrocarbons and 50 percent less nitrogen oxides, the two pollutants that combine under hot summer sun to form ozone.

The California car bill was backed by the Schaefer administration, environmentalists and health advocates.

But they faced a massive lobbying assault from the auto and oil industries, car dealers and service station owners, who argued that it could devastate their already depressed businesses.

Proponents argued it would add only about $200 to the cost of a new car, while opponents contended it could raise prices by $1,000 or more.

Autos are responsible for 60 percent of the hydrocarbons produced in Maryland, the environment secretary noted, but if the legislature for bids him from regulating vehicle emissions, he will have to consider other ways of reducing ozone, such as requiring the sale of cleaner-burning gasoline.

The EPA already has issued regulations requiring less-polluting "reformulated" fuels in smog-plagued urban areas like Baltimore by 1995.

But California, with the worst air quality in the nation, has proposed an even cleaner gas recipe. Schaefer administration officials had vowed not to go for California fuels if they got the car bill, but Mr. Perciasepe said he will have to consider it now.

"I'm not saying we're going to adopt it," Mr. Perciasepe said. "We're going to do a study on fuels to determine our options. There may be other things we can do [shy of] California fuels that may get cars to perform better."

Mr. Perciasepe said he would also look at requiring even further pollution reductions from industries and businesses.

Administration "hit list"

During the California car bill debate, the administration had released a "hit list" of 100 companies in Maryland that might be targeted for pollution reductions, including oil and gas storage terminals and the General Motors van assembly plant in Baltimore.

Oil industry spokesmen reacted cautiously to Mr. Perciasepe's remarks, though they said they were glad the Schaefer administration is looking beyond California cars.

"I don't know how far Bob is going to carry this thing," said Michael McDonald, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council. Mr. McDonald said his industry, which had warned that requiring California fuels could raise Maryland gas prices by more than 20 cents a gallon, "would like to open a dialogue" with the secretary.

Sen. Baker, who also opposes California fuels, said he has no problems with the environment secretary looking at them as long as he doesn't attempt to require them. That would jeopardize the car bill, the senator indicated.

But Paul Billings, a lobbyist for the American Lung Association, which supported the California car bill, said Mr. Perciasepe has no choice but to consider every pollution-control measure, no matter how costly or extreme it may seem.

"The problem is, there's not a whole lot of options for states under the federal law," Mr. Billings said.

Maryland is one of a dozen Eastern states that have pledged to pursue California tailpipe limits as part of their strategy for reducing ozone pollution.

Only two states, Massachusetts and New York, have adopted the program so far.

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