County employers listened in bemused silence yesterday to the state's plan to reduce unhealthy air emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road during rush hour.
Finally the silence broke when one employer said, "I don't see a thread of reality in this."
Where governments once encouraged commuters to car pool, the 2-year-old, federal Clean Air Act now requires it -- at least in those cities, including Baltimore, with the poorest air quality, said Leslie E. Sipes, chief of operations and quality assurance at the Maryland Department of the Environment. The Baltimore area is sixth worst in the nation.
The new state program makes employers with more than 100 workers responsible for getting their rush-hour commuters into van pools or mass transit, Ms. Sipes said.
"The reality is we have to get cars off the road," Ms. Sipes said. "It means you have to have fewer employees driving to work."
The draft regulation would affect about 1,500 businesses in the metro area -- 80 in Anne Arundel. Westinghouse, Nevamar, Baltimore Gas & Electric, North Arundel Hospital, the National Security Agency, the Naval Academy, U.S. Air, and county and state governments are among those affected.
Ms. Sipes presented the draft regulations to the transportation committee of the Anne Arundel County Trade Council yesterday morning. Specifically, employers must increase average occupancy of each car driven to their work site by 25 percent. By way of example, if none of their employees currently car pooled, then at least 20 would be required to do so under the regulations.
County employers are worried about how much the program, which will require them to hire a commuter coordinator for the employees, will cost. Based on experiences in California, which has a similar program, tracking their employees' commuting habits could cost up to $200 per worker per year, Ms. Sipes said.
Nancy Van Winter, chairwoman of the transportation committee, said some of the requirements are too burdensome and should be eliminated before the state adopts the program in November.
But, Ms. Van Winter conceded the law is "a fact of life ."
Baltimore violated federal standards for ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, 17 times last summer. Automotive emissions account for 65 percent of the ozone-causing pollutants released into Maryland's air.
Although ozone in the upper atmosphere shields people from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, ground-level ozone can irritate people's lungs. It is formed when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from automobiles, industry, and other sources, such as paint and cleaning fluids.
Ms. Sipes said the regulations target rush hour commuters because their emissions are released when the sun is the strongest.
The MDE will hold hearings on the proposal in November. It must submit the program to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for review by Nov. 15.