Plan to test emissions may stall out Glendening says he will back bills to delay program

'We recognize problems'

Many Md. motorists concerned procedure will harm vehicles

January 18, 1996|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that he would seek to delay controversial vehicle emissions tests that were supposed to begin in June.

The governor said that after consulting with legislative leaders, he will support bills already introduced in the General Assembly to postpone for another year the requirement that Maryland motorists have their autos and light trucks tested on a treadmill-like device.

Motorists will still have to bring their vehicles to one of 19 testing stations to check their tailpipe emissions, state officials stressed.

"We recognize there are problems in this program that have not been worked out," the governor said in a statement released by his press office. While efforts are already being made to fix them, Mr. Glendening said, "it is important we resolve these operational issues before we require motorists to subject their vehicles to a full treadmill test."

The dynamometer, a device on which vehicles are driven at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, was the focus of public outcry last year over the state's enhanced emissions inspection program. Many owners objected to surrendering their keys to technicians for the tests, and said they feared their vehicles may be damaged on the treadmill.

The governor and legislators had agreed last year to post-pone the dynamometer and other "intrusive" tests for 15 months after equipment and staffing problems prevented the start-up of the state's new emissions inspection program.

Treadmill tests have been offered on a voluntary basis since testing resumed last spring, but only about 4 percent of vehicle owners have asked for it, officials say. Only 35 of more than 15,000 vehicles tested were damaged, and contractor MARTA Technologies Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., reimbursed owners for repairs.

But in the meantime, motorists have complained of long waits -- up to 55 minutes -- to have their vehicles tested at stations in East Baltimore and in Montgomery County.

Ray Feldmann, spokesman for the governor, said there also have been complaints about "glitches" in the computer software used to analyze vehicle emissions.

Jane T. Nishida, secretary of the environment, said that state officials still believe the enhanced emissions testing program would be a far cheaper way to improve air quality than to crack down harder on industries. Otherwise, she said, "we may have to impose stricter air pollution reductions on business in the state."

Federal law requires Baltimore and other urban areas troubled by smog to take steps to curtail it.

Legislative leaders welcomed the governor's announcement, noting that Congress has eased pressure on states to comply with federal pollution-control requirements.

"I think Maryland needs time to ferret out where it wants to be regarding inspection stations," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. He noted that neighboring states have balked at imposing similar emissions tests.

"We need a more user-friendly program," said state Sen. Philip Jimeno, a Democrat from Anne Arundel County, who introduced a bill to delay the treadmill tests for a year.

A delay would give the state "a chance not to scrap it and walk away from it," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat who is chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee. "We need to take it out and explain it better."

Environmentalists lamented a possible delay but acknowledged there have been problems.

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