Panel approves bill to keep dynamometer test voluntary Prospects uncertain in full Senate

March 12, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland's controversial dynamometer test for vehicle emissions would remain voluntary under a bill approved by a state Senate committee yesterday.

The bill, approved 8-3 by the Judicial Proceedings Committee, would prohibit the state from making the test mandatory. Without the legislation, the tests would be required of most vehicles in the most populous areas of the state as of June 1.

But many drivers object to the test, saying they worry about damage to their cars and the accuracy of the dynamometer exam.

"People just believe this is an intrusive test," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat and chief sponsor of the legislation.

The measure goes to the full Senate, where its prospects are uncertain, Stone said.

Motorists in Baltimore and 13 counties are required to take their vehicles in for emissions tests every two years, but the dynamometer is an optional part of that testing.

For the dynamometer test, vehicles have their engines revved to driving speed while remaining stationary on a treadmill-like device as sensors measure pollutants. About 43 percent of vehicle owners are volunteering to have the test done, state officials said, thanks in part to a $2 reduction in the normal $12 inspection fee.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced in January that he supports making the test mandatory in June. About 2.8 million vehicle owners in the state -- of a total of 3.8 million -- would be subject to the test.

The committee's vote came despite warnings from federal environmental officials that Maryland's failure to enact a strong emissions reduction program could cost the state federal transportation funds.

Jane T. Nishida, secretary of the state Department of the Environment, said the federal government could impose its own clean-air program for Maryland if the dynamometer test is not made mandatory.

"The EPA will not approve a voluntary [dynamometer] program," Nishida said.

But Stone said the state should try to increase the number of drivers who volunteer their cars for the dynamometer tests and return to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to renegotiate terms of the state's anti-pollution effort.

"I can't imagine that our department couldn't negotiate with them," Stone said.

State officials also have felt pressure from a lawsuit filed by environmentalists accusing the EPA of violating federal law by letting Maryland, four other mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia drag their feet in reducing emissions that cause summer smog.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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