Sharing Clean Air Costs

July 31, 1992

Clean air is becoming ever more costly, as society struggles to find man-made controls to halt man-made pollution. So, cutting the cost of these controls, without compromising the cleanup effort, is a good idea. The state transportation 'u department's plan for state ownership of 20 auto emissions test stations seems a step in that direction.

State ownership would prevent Maryland from being held hostage by a single vendor that owns all the emission-control stations. Competitive bidding by private companies to run the stations would be encouraged. At the moment, Envirotest Technologies Inc. owns and operates the state's 10 emissions test stations, earning $7 million a year. It was the sole bidder on the 1988 contract.

Legislators are right to question the limited financial analysis of DOT's $60 million plan. They want assurances that direct state ++ ownership is cheaper than private ownership. Separate bids for building the stations (which would then be bought by the state) and another set of bids for operating the stations might be preferable to DOT's proposal to combine everything into one bid package.

The fee for bi-annual emissions testing would double from the current $8.50 to pay for the new facilities and more thorough testing required under federal mandates for autos in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.

However, with 14 of 24 Maryland jurisdictions now included in the mandatory emissions-test program, consideration should be given to sharing more of the cost statewide. A car driven in rural areas does not spew out less pollution than a car operating in more congested urban areas. The cumulative toxic impact is lower simply because there are fewer fellow polluters and more available fresh air to dilute the exhaust. Given the extensive and growing auto traffic between counties, the resultant air pollution is not solely caused by those living in metropolitan counties.

If it is impractical to require all Maryland motorists to have their car exhausts tested, we ought to place a modest fee on all vehicle license tags to fund the cleanup (and testing) that benefits everyone. That would mean proportionately sharing the economic burden of motorists who now must pay testing fees. There is no reason for car owners in non-test counties to remain smug about their neighbors' smog: the air we breathe respects no such artificial boundaries.

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