Officials want exemptions from commuting rules

January 12, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Yielding to an outcry from Baltimore-area employers, Maryland officials said yesterday they would seek to exempt the city and its suburbs from federally mandated curbs on commuters driving to work alone.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer told the region's local elected leaders yesterday in a closed meeting in Baltimore that he feared the area would lose businesses to nearby Washington and its suburbs because of commuting regulations required by the federal Clean Air Act.

"The governor said he doesn't want to pit one area against another," Page W. Boinest, his press secretary, said after the meeting.

Under the law, the state must help clean up the Baltimore area's severe summertime smog by changing the commuting patterns of up to 600,000 city and suburban workers.

Baltimore has the sixth worst smog problem among urban areas in the country. Officials in the Washington area, with the 10th worst smog, are not required to change workers' commuting habits.

The state faces the loss of federal highway funds and other sanctions if it does not adopt commuting regulations for Baltimore by July. The rules would take effect in 1996.

About 1,700 area employers who have more than 100 workers would have to discourage them from driving alone. Employers could support car pools, subsidize mass transit or allow work at home.

The Maryland Department of the Environment proposed commuting regulations last year, but withdrew them after bitter protests. The agency has tried without success since then to develop new rules that would ease employers' concerns over cost and difficulty.

"No one is suggesting we not meet the Clean Air Act's goals," said David A. C. Carroll, Maryland's environment secretary. "We all agree with those. How we do it is at issue here."

He said the state would seek federal approval of voluntary measures to change commuting habits in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

The Washington area's population is growing four times faster than that of the Baltimore area, Mr. Carroll noted. Some 90,000 workers who live in the Baltimore area would not be affected by commuting curbs because they work in the Washington area.

Mr. Carroll said he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency for approval of unspecified pollution controls that would reduce ozone-producing emissions by as much as the commuting regulations.

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