No more delay in auto exhaust testing Treadmill trepidation: State must ensure careful, trustworthy dynamometer operation.

February 03, 1997

THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency has stepped up its demand for cleaner air in the Baltimore and Washington regions, which will mean mandatory testing of motor vehicle exhausts on the dynamometer, a high-speed treadmill.

Gov. Parris Glendening said last week vehicle dynamometer testing will begin in June, without further delay, as the best way to improve air quality. Otherwise, the state could face federally imposed restrictions on industry and construction and loss of federal dollars.

Opponents of dynamometer testing raise serious concerns: questionable validity of auto warranties in such use, damage to autos by emissions station employees, lack of such testing in other polluted-air regions.

But this is an environmental and public health issue, and cleanup efforts so far have been insufficient. Auto emissions are a major source of smog ingredients, and clean-running vehicles are fundamental to air quality.

Treadmill trepidation has caused many Marylanders to resist turning over their autos to emissions test station employees, who must operate the vehicles to assure the test's validity. Such concerns prompted the state to delay mandatory dynamometer testing for two years.

But EPA recently settled a lawsuit brought by environmental groups to strictly enforce the Clean Air Act in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. The agreement forces Maryland to fully implement its smog-control program by May 15, or have the EPA impose a plan.

There's another complication. State audits found serious problems with the testing contractor, ranging from financial accounting to inadequate staff to malfunctioning equipment -- including dynamometers. Most problems have been corrected, officials say, and biennial dynamometer testing can proceed for all vehicles.

However, the state should be prepared to spend more money, if necessary, to facilitate dynamometer testing, to ease worries of vehicle owners and improve air quality.

Maryland officials must also ensure that the emissions-testing company responsibly fulfills its contract so it gains credibility with state motorists for competent, careful auto exhaust inspections.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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