Senate votes to keep dynamometer test for emissions voluntary Maryland could lose $98 million in federal transportation money

March 19, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

The Senate approved a bill yesterday that would keep the state's treadmill-like vehicle emissions test voluntary, despite warnings from federal officials that Maryland could lose up to $98 million in transportation money for failing to make the program mandatory.

State senators voted 25-21 in favor of the voluntary program. Supporters of the bill said they have received numerous complaints from motorists that the test, which uses a treadmill-like device called a dynamometer, damaged their cars.

The bill was sent to the House of Delegates, which also appears to be divided on the issue.

"The delegates are getting the same pressures those senators are getting to keep it voluntary," said Ronald A. Guns, the Cecil Democrat who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee, which is reviewing the emissions test legislation.

Guns said he will meet with members of the Glendening administration today to discuss concerns about the dynamometer before his committee votes on the Senate bill and other emissions test proposals.

If the General Assembly does not pass a measure to keep the dynamometer test voluntary, it will automatically become mandatory June 1.

About 2.8 million of the state's 3.8 million vehicle owners would be subject to the test.

Motorists in Baltimore and 13 counties are required to take their vehicles in for emissions tests every two years and have a choice between the tailpipe test and the dynamometer.

During the dynamometer test, vehicles are revved to driving speed on a treadmill-like device that measures pollutants. About 43 percent of vehicle owners are volunteering for the test.

Without the mandatory program, the federal government has threatened to cut millions from state road projects, including improvements to Interstate 695 in Baltimore County, Route 32 in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, Interstate 270 in Montgomery and Frederick counties and Interstate 95 in Prince George's County.

Those warnings have prompted Gov. Parris N. Glendening to support the mandatory test, although he would not say yesterday whether he would veto a bill that would keep the dynamometer voluntary.

"We have only one real source of pollution we can control and that's auto emissions," Glendening said. "In addition, the federal government has been quite adamant."

In addition to withholding as much as $98 million in road-building money, the governor said, the federal government could take over decisions about where industry can build if the dynamometer test remains voluntary.

"We ought to have our air cleared up and keep the decision making in our hands," he said.

But senators said yesterday that they were willing to take their chances with the threats from the federal government because of the concerns motorists have raised about the dynamometer test.

"I haven't heard of any state being sanctioned," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who was the lead sponsor of the bill to keep the test voluntary. "We're supposed to be cleaning up the air, not doing what Big Brother wants us to do."

"If you think the EPA is going to sit back and do nothing, you're wrong," countered Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery Democrat.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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