Challenge to commuter curbs vowed

September 17, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

The head of the Greater Baltimore Committee vowed yesterday to pursue the business group's legal challenge of commuting curbs required for the region by the federal government, even though a state official noted that the controversial program has been so watered down it is "essentially . . . voluntary."

Donald P. Hutchinson, the committee's president, said major businesses in the Baltimore area still object to any requirement that they try to get their employees to stop driving alone to work. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has already eased its requirements, he warned that businesses still could be pushed toward Washington, where commuting will not be regulated.

Up to 2,000 large area employers must draw up plans aimed at reducing the number of workers driving to work alone by 25 percent. In revising the Clean Air Act in 1990, Congress required commuting curbs for the nation's nine smoggiest urban areas.

Commuting was targeted because morning rush-hour emissions from automobiles contribute to formation of ozone, the chief ingredient in smog, which can cause breathing problems.

The commuting curbs have been unpopular among employers, who say they may have to offer their workers costly incentives to car pool or take mass transit. Heeding the outcry, EPA relaxed its requirements this year, allowing businesses to limit their efforts to smoggy months in late spring and summer. The agency also pledged not to penalize employers if their workers failed to respond.

"The program has no teeth now. It essentially is a voluntary program," said Merrylin Zaw-Mon, air management administrator for the Maryland Department of the Environment. The state is awaiting EPA approval of its proposed commuting regulations and hopes to work with businesses to make the program as easy and inexpensive as possible.

Mr. Hutchinson said area employers cannot afford to rely on federal or state assurances. In its suit, filed this week in the the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the business group seeks to require the EPA to combine the Baltimore and Washington areas when considering the region's air quality, since the cities have been merged into a single metropolitan area. Under the law, Washington's smog is not considered as severe as Baltimore's.

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