'California cars' backed Targeting vehicles for smog control said to save jobs

March 02, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Fighting smog by requiring low-emission vehicles in Maryland would save the economically beleaguered state more than 60,000 jobs a year, says a report released yesterday by supporters of the pollution-control proposal.

The report was released a few days before a critical legislative hearing on a Schaefer administration bill that would mandate so-called "California cars," which burn fuel more cleanly.

The report seeks to counter criticism from the auto and oil industries, which helped sink a similar measure last year.

Commissioned by the American Lung Association, the study by a Fairfax, Va., consulting firm contends that Maryland would lose a greater number of jobs each year if regulators crack down on industry, rather than on cars, to clear the state's smoggy air. "Low-emission vehicles will cost less in the long run than additional industry controls," said Bradford Case, an economist with ICF Inc., the firm that wrote the report.

Maryland officials have until next year under the federal Clean Air Act to figure out how to eliminate the smog that plagues the Baltimore and Washington areas each spring and summer.

State air-quality regulators contend they probably cannot do that without requiring tighter controls on auto and truck emissions than the federal law mandates.

Ozone is the main component of smog, which irritates the lungs and causes many people to cough and wheeze. It is formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides produced by autos, industry and many other sources combine in strong sunlight. But cars and trucks are the single largest source of smog-producing pollution, officials say.

The Schaefer administration wants Maryland to join 12 other Northeastern states that pledged to adopt California's auto emission limits, which are the most stringent in the country.

Massachusetts, Maine and New Jersey have done so, but a federal judge has declared illegal a similar move in New York.

The Baltimore area has the sixth worst ozone levels of any city in the country, and Washington the 10th worst, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"If there were a factory polluting to the degree that cars are in Maryland, no one would stand for it," said Dr. Rebecca Bascom, a University of Maryland pulmonary specialist who is a spokeswoman for the lung association.

The state faces the loss of federal highway funds and strict federal limits on industry expansion unless it adopts smog-fighting measures approved by the EPA. The Baltimore area alone receives $139 million a year for road construction.

Ozone in Maryland's air reached levels deemed unhealthful by the EPA on just five days last year, thanks to an unseasonably cool, damp summer.

But Dr. Bascom noted that there is growing scientific evidence that people can suffer lung irritation by breathing air with ozone levels far below the federal threshold. She said that there were up to 60 days last spring and summer when the air in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties contained enough ozone to give some people breathing problems.

The EPA yesterday upheld the Bush administration's refusal to lower the ozone standard of 0.12 parts per million.

But EPA Administrator Carol Browner pledged a prompt review of new scientific evidence that the federal safety threshold may be too high to protect health.

Spokesmen for the auto and oil industries contend that adopting California's stringent auto emission limits will do little to reduce pollution and add $1,000 or more to the cost of a new car.

Supporters of adopting the California limits counter that better auto pollution controls would cost no more than $200 per car.

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