Clean air will be more costly to state's motorists New EPA tests to be more thorough, more expensive.

July 14, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

The price of clean air will hit most Maryland motorists where they drive under a new auto emissions testing program announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To curb urban smog, the state's every-other-year emissions checks of cars and trucks will have to be beefed up, made more costly and expanded to cover drivers living in six rural counties beyond the Baltimore and Washington areas, state officials said yesterday.

The new emissions tests, using a sophisticated treadmill-like device, will cost more -- up to twice the current $8.50 fee. They also will take longer -- up to 10 minutes.

And if a vehicle flunks, its owner will have to spend up to $450 to fix the problems.

Emissions testing already is required in the Baltimore metro area and in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The new counties to be covered by the testing are: Washington, Frederick, Cecil, Queen Anne's, Charles and Calvert.

Cracking down on auto emissions is the most effective way to fight the smog that is plaguing the Baltimore and Washington areas and 175 other cities nationwide, the EPA said.

"We have to get pollution down . . . one way or another," said EPA Administrator William K. Reilly. "The testing methods we've used in our inspection programs up to this point are simply not capable of doing a good job."

More than half of all hydrocarbons in the air that form ozone, the chief ingredient in smog, come from auto tailpipes and from evaporating fuel vapors, officials said. Vehicles also are the source of 30 percent of the nitrogen oxides in the air, ozone's other major ingredient.

Baltimore and its suburbs have the sixth worst ozone levels of any urban area in the country, and Washington ranks 10th, according to the EPA.

Though beneficial in the upper atmosphere, where it shields the Earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, ozone formed close to the ground can cause wheezing and throat and chest irritation.

Asthmatics and others with chronic breathing problems are most vulnerable to ozone's effects, but so are the elderly, young children and healthy adults who may be exercising outdoors on hot, sunny days, when levels of the gas are elevated.

Maryland does not expect to begin the tougher inspections until Jan. 1, 1995, though the EPA proposal calls for them to start, at least partially, six months sooner. But the state plans to have the program fully in place by 1995. The EPA only requires the new testing program be phased in completely by 1999.

The state's plans should meet all EPA requirements, said Daniel Meszler, chief of motor vehicle pollution controls for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The state plans to expand emissions testing to the six new counties because emissions produced by cars and trucks there are carried by winds to smoggy urban areas.

All told, up to 1.5 million cars and trucks will be tested every other year -- 400,000 more than are now being checked, said Mr. Meszler.

The tests will be more sophisticated than the current emissions check, in which a technician samples exhaust coming from a car's tailpipe while the engine idles. The new tests will simulate real driving, checking tailpipe emissions while vehicles accelerate, idle and brake on a treadmill device called a "dynamometer." Each dynamometer will cost about about $100,000.

The new tests will be harder to pass. While only about 10 percent of all vehicles checked now flunk, up to 30 percent will fail to meet the tougher standards of the new program, said Mr. Meszler.

"We think we'll be able to identify more dirty vehicles than we do now," he said.

If a car or truck is too dirty to pass the new test, its owner will have to take it to an auto shop for a tune-up or other repairs. State officials estimate the average repair bill should run about $100, but a motorist could eventually be required to spend up to $450 before getting a waiver from meeting the emissions limits.

Congress mandated the higher repair costs when it beefed up the Clean Air Act in 1990. State officials say they plan to raise the cap on repair bills gradually, starting at $150 in 1995 and going up $100 a year after that.

States News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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