Breathing Easier CARROLL COUNTY

August 16, 1993

While nearly everyone agrees that we need cleaner air to breathe, the problem, as always, is in the details.

The Maryland Department of the Environment recently concluded hearings on proposed commuter restrictions to reduce morning rush-hour traffic by 25 percent. The aim is to lower the levels of harmful auto-caused ozone in Carroll County and the rest of the Baltimore region, the sixth worst in the nation.

Employers with at least 100 employees are being asked to come up with in-house programs to raise the average occupancy of commuting vehicles by late 1996. The draft rules suggest incentives such as staggered work shifts, four-day weeks and preferred parking spaces for carpoolers. The emphasis is on voluntary employer efforts through incentives for their work force.

Some businesses complain that the regulations, which will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for adoption, are too inflexible and place an undue burden on the employer for individual actions. They question the validity of the data, which are based on outdated information about where people live and not where they work.

Giant Food stores, for instance, would be required to reduce commuter trips during the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. peak period, even though they already stagger shifts to reduce the commuter crunch, an official said. Forcing employers to get a 75 percent response rate from workers about their detailed commuter habits may prove impossible, an employer at Baltimore-Washington International Airport argued. Yet another employer questioned whether all this manipulation would actually reduce air pollution.

Carroll, unfortunately, has one of the lowest commuter vehicle occupancy rates in the region, an average 1.17 people per car. Being on the outskirts of the regional airshed, that may not seem to cause much pollution. But many of Carroll's 65,000 working residents drive to other counties for their jobs, contributing to the overall problem.

The environmental agencies should carefully weigh the concerns of employers who foresee problems in rigid rules, and make adjustments where warranted. But employers and employees must recognize that the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments will require inconvenient adjustments from all of us if we are to breathe more easily.

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