Governor revs it up for low-emission bill Outlook unclear in Senate panel

February 05, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer took a spin around the State House in a so-called "clean car" yesterday to boost the popularity of his bill to require low-emission vehicles in Maryland.

"We must be in the forefront of reducing pollution," the governor said, after peeking under the hoods of five low-emission vehicles powered by gasoline, natural gas, electricity or a combination of two.

The governor's bill would require all new cars and trucks registered in Maryland to meet California's strict emission standards beginning with the 1998 model year, or earlier if

Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania adopt the standards.

Environmentalists say "California cars" will reduce emissions of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, the two main ingredients in smog, or ground-level ozone. The Baltimore area has been found to have the nation's sixth-worst ozone pollution, which can cause or worsen breathing problems in some people.

Similar emissions bills stalled in the state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee in 1991 and 1992, and the road remains uncertain for this year's version. That committee contains two new members who have not voted on the the issue before. Also, the bill's nemesis, Committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, refuses to be locked into an earlier agreement to support the measure.

After helping defeat it last year, Mr. Baker supposedly agreed to support a revised version in 1993. At least that is what the governor's office announced at the time. "I didn't sign off on anything," Mr. Baker said yesterday. "I never write blank checks." The conservative Democrat from Cecil County said he does not know yet how he will vote.

At a news event outside the State House, the governor and his environmental chief announced the results of a recent survey by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

The random telephone survey of 1,032 Marylanders shows that three-fourths support tougher emission controls. And 83 percent those supporters say they would continue to favor the controls even if the cost of a new car went up by $200.

Another study, by the University of Maryland's Agronomy Department, reveals that summertime smog causes $40 million in damage to Maryland crops every year, administration officials said.

Marylanders collectively drive 113 million miles a day, Environment Secretary Robert Perciasepe said.

If the state does not try to reduce pollution from cars, then it will have to crack down even harder on factories, the governor said. "We don't want to take it all out on industries," he said. "We want to make sure that we don't over-regulate and drive business into a defensive position."

Maryland could adopt the federal standards for auto emissions instead of the California ones, Mr. Perciasepe said, but the federal rules are too weak. "The difference between the federal and the California standards are the equivalent of people driving almost 27 million miles a day in Maryland . . . [or] the equivalent of 12 Bethlehem Steel [factories]," he said.

The bill has drawn a formidable array of opponents in years past. Automobile and oil companies have fought it on the grounds that the environmental benefits are negligible and the costs of making cleaner cars are exorbitant.

William Winters, a General Motors spokesman in New York, said that California-type emission standards could drive up the cost of a new car by $1,100. Others, including the Schaefer administration, claim the extra cost would more likely be in the $100 to $200 range.

The Maryland Petroleum Council and the New Car and Truck Dealers Association already have lined up against the 1993 bill. Whether car manufacturers will take a similar position was unclear yesterday. One of their representatives in Maryland, Paul Tiburzi, referred comments to Mr. Winters, who said he was unfamiliar with the Maryland bill.

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