Traffic generated by a new Redskins stadium in Laurel could push pollution levels in the Baltimore-Washington region even closer to the point where extreme measures such as banning outdoor barbecues and power lawn mowers would be necessary.
Or it might have only a minimal effect on regional air quality. It all depends on whom you ask.
Questions about the effect the proposed 78,600-seat stadium next to Laurel Race Course will have on regional air quality have become part of the environmental debate over the stadium.
Larry Bohlen, spokesman for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, insists things will only get worse in a region that already exceeds Clean Air Act limits on ozone pollution and must meet several pollution reduction targets before 2020 or lose federal highway money.
"Build a road and they will come," he said. "Traffic will increase, and therefore air pollution will increase."
Citizens Against the Stadium II also bases its opposition in part on air-quality considerations, said Nick Ruggiero, chairman of the CATS II zoning committee.
But Ronald Kirby, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, says moving the Redskins from RFK Stadium in Washington to new quarters in Laurel only shifts traffic from one place to another.
"The incremental difference that makes on regional air quality is virtually not measurable," he said.
The stadium could make things better, said Walter Lynch, the Redskins' project manager, because the pollution could be worse if the land, which is zoned for industry, were used for a factory or a large housing development.
In the Baltimore and Washington areas, which are critical to the Redskins' plans, any increase in vehicle emissions that keeps either area from reaching its target could result in curbs on industry and the loss of federal highway money.
"What's at stake is hundreds of millions of dollars," said Michael Replogle, co-director of the Environmental Defense Fund's Transportation Project.
Road improvements connected with the stadium could bring more vehicles into the area, even on non-game days, said Chick Krautler, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. Pollution from that traffic would have to be factored into the regional model to determine if pollution targets have been exceeded, he explained.
Until the Redskins file a special exception zoning request with Anne Arundel County, the scope of road improvements, the volume of traffic and the possibility of Clean Air Act restrictions will remain unclear.
Mr. Lynch said the team hopes to file the request, which includes traffic studies, within two weeks.
Mr. Replogle said the stadium does not concern the Environmental Defense Fund as much as the Disney America project proposed for Haymarket, Va., or a large development proposed at Fort Belvoir.
He said it is hard to say if the stadium will be able to meet Clean Air Act regulations -- in part because the regulations are being challenged in federal courts.
Paul Wentworth, environmental engineer with EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia, said the Redskins might cancel out increased pollution from road improvements by including mass transit improvements such as HOV lanes or a MARC train depot in their proposal.
Mr. Lynch said parking would be increased and made available for park-and-ride use on days when no games are played. On game days, he said, buses and trains would help reduce traffic.
The Washington and Baltimore regions also have other pollution control strategies at their disposal, said Marcia Spink, chief of air and radiation programs with EPA Region 3. New kinds of gasoline and new inspections for automobile emissions are expected to make a big difference in ozone levels, she said.
Compliance with the Clean Air Act is determined at the regional level, not the project level, said Mr. Kirby. Computer models can show if the region has met federal pollution control standards, but the models can't point the finger of blame at any individual project, such as the stadium, he said.