Strict California-style plan for emissions questioned

January 18, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Maryland's plan to adopt California's strict auto emissions standards is unlikely to curb smog in the Baltimore and Washington areas as much or as quickly as predicted, says a study released yesterday by a Johns Hopkins University pollution expert.

Dr. Hugh Ellis, a professor of environmental engineering at Hopkins, concludes there may be cheaper and more reliable ways to reduce ozone pollution in the state than with so-called "California cars."

Dr. Ellis' study puts a dent in a proposal by Maryland and some other states that low-emission vehicles, including some powered by batteries, be sold from Maine to Virginia beginning in 1997.

Auto and oil industry representatives hailed the report, saying it confirms their opposition to California-style pollution controls in the East.

But the Schaefer administration and some environmentalists insisted yesterday that the study did not shake their belief in the California clean-car program.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, Baltimore and its suburbs, with the sixth-worst smog in the country, have until 2005 to achieve healthy air. The Washington area, with the 10th-worst ozone pollution, has until 1999.

The Maryland General Assembly authorized the Schaefer administration last year to require the sale of low-emission cars and light trucks, including some electric vehicles, as long as neighboring states take similar steps.

But lawmakers also commissioned the independent feasibility study by Dr. Ellis. That report, which cost $50,000, urges state officials to consider waiting up to a decade for the federal government to tighten auto emissions nationwide, or to take a closer look at a "cleaner-car" plan proposed last month by the auto industry.

The study ranks California's emissions program among the most expensive of several pollution-control options. Dr. Ellis projected its cost at more than $15,000 per ton of smog-forming emissions removed from the air, compared with $4,000 per ton for the cheapest option, cracking down on power plants.

Under California's program, auto manufacturers would have to produce progressively cleaner cars and light trucks beginning in 1997. One in 50 made by 1998 would have to be "zero emission" electric vehicles.

But Dr. Ellis said there are legal and technical doubts about requiring the auto industry to produce electric cars.

Environmentalists took issue with the study, saying it inflates the costs of California cars and overstates the benefits from other pollution-control strategies.

"There may be cheaper strategies, but all of those fall short in that they're either unenforceable, illegal or won't lead Maryland to [clean air]," said Nita Settina, lobbyist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

David A. C. Carroll, Maryland's environment secretary, put a positive spin on the report, saying it "confirms" the state's plan.

But Bill Winters, a spokesman for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, said he was "amazed" by Mr. Carroll's reading of the study.

The auto industry, which is fighting the spread of California cars to the East, has offered to build cleaner-running cars and light trucks nationwide over the next decade. The vehicles would not reduce pollution as much as the California limits require, but also would not cost as much to produce, industry officials say.

The Ozone Transport Commission, set up by Congress to combat smog in 12 East Coast states and the District of Columbia, is slated to vote Feb. 1 on whether to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require California low-emission vehicles throughout the region.

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