From the beginning, Maryland's new auto emission testing program has been plagued by public resentment, lack of advance information, faulty technical preparation and a rush-rush deadline mentality that allowed little room for correcting problems before it was imposed on state motorists.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has shown a commendable responsiveness to public concerns, and the admirable ability to compromise reasonably with legislative leadership, in crafting a new exhaust testing program that will alleviate many auto owner fears while still reducing air pollution in the Baltimore-Washington region.
The new governor also demonstrated that he will not allow himself to be hamstrung by 11th-hour decisions of the Schaefer administration, which adopted the most comprehensive auto emissions testing program in the Northeast, only to shelve it three days after it began in Baltimore City and 13 counties.
The changes will delay for 18 months the most objectionable parts of the testing program, which had testers disconnecting hoses under the hood and driving vehicles up to 55 miles an hour on stationary treadmills. The 19 test stations will continue to measure tailpipe exhausts and will visually inspect anti-pollution equipment under the hood.
The revisions will reduce the bi-annual fee a tad, trimming it from $17 to $14, most of which will go to pay the private contractor running the program. Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, who led the legislative compromise efforts, says the fee could be reduced further. The cap on repairs for cars that fail the test was lowered to $150 from $250.
The compromise plan is expected to be approved by the General Assembly this session, while the Schaefer inspection program remains on hold. The spirit of compromise, instead of an administration-legislature confrontation, should prevail.
Legislators should not abandon efforts to clean up auto exhausts. Emissions testing remains one of the most effective ways to cut smog in Maryland. Baltimore and Washington areas are ranked in the national Top Ten for levels of auto-caused smog, which can irritate lungs and create respiratory problems. The compromise program would double the amount of pollutants removed each year by the pre-1995 testing program.
Maryland and other states are under federal order to reduce unhealthful levels of smog, or ground-level ozone; otherwise they face loss of large highway fund grants. Mr. Glendening insists he will not seek to shift the pollution-reduction burden to industries, because that would seriously harm the state economy. Instead, he has joined neighboring states in pursuing a more reasonable auto exhaust testing program that will engender environmental benefit without political furor and citizen lawsuits.