N.Y. ruling may jeopardize Schaefer bill on emissions

January 26, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

A New York court ruling has cast a cloud over Maryland's move toward California-style, cleaner cars. A Maryland official, however, insists there is a silver lining.

A federal judge in Binghamton, N.Y., has blocked New York's adoption of stringent emission standards for all new cars and trucks sold in that state beginning in 1995.

Ruling on a lawsuit filed by the auto industry, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy decided Friday that New York's adoption of California's tailpipe limits violates the federal Clean Air Act of 1990, which protects motor vehicle manufacturers from the "undue burden" of state regulations.

The judge declared that auto makers might have to retool the emissions control systems of cars and trucks sold in New York, because the fuel to be sold in that state might cause problems for cars built to meet California's pollution standards. Those standards are more stringent than the federal requirement for cars and trucks sold nationwide.

If upheld, the ruling could block a similar move in Maryland intended to combat smog in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer plans to reintroduce a bill defeated last year to require that new cars and trucks sold in Maryland meet California's stringent emission standards by 1998, at the latest.

The bill would require reduced emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, which are the two main ingredients in the formation of smog, or ground-level ozone. Smog can cause breathing problems for many people. The Baltimore area has the nation's sixth-worst ozone pollution.

Robert Perciasepe, Maryland's environment secretary, said the Schaefer administration is "going full tilt ahead" despite the court ruling.

He said the decision actually helps Maryland and other states in one aspect, because the judge found there was no legal requirement that California's cleaner fuel be sold wherever California-style cars are sold.

In California, a special gasoline is to be sold for use in the "low-emission" cars and trucks. Maryland, New York and 11 other Northeastern states have pledged to adopt California's exhaust limits but not the fuel standards.

Mr. Perciasepe noted that the New Jersey senate yesterday approved requiring the low-emission cars in that state, and that Maine regulators plan to adopt a similar rule tomorrow.

Massachusetts is the only other state that has adopted the California emission standards.

Regulators in Maryland and other Northeastern states contend that the California cars will reduce smog without the cleaner-burning fuel.

The oil industry has objected to providing fuel that meets California's standards elsewhere in the country. But auto manufacturers contend that the gasoline sold outside of California will contain more sulfur and that the higher levels of that pollutant in the exhaust will cause the cars' internal monitors to indicate that the catalytic converter is not working properly. A --board light may come on, urging motorists to take the car to a mechanic, said Mark Slywynsky, an attorney with the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.

While the problem can be easily remedied, the judge ruled that the Clean Air Act only envisions the auto industry making two versions of its cars -- one to meet federal emission standards, and one to meet California's. New York may be requiring an illegal "third" car, he said.

Thomas C. Jorling, New York's environmental conservation commissioner, called the ruling "fundamentally flawed" and said it would be appealed promptly.

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