The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval last night to a bill that defies Washington's demand for a mandatory treadmill test of auto emissions in Maryland.
The bill, a similar version of which has already passed the state Senate, would allow motorists to choose to have their vehicles tested on the treadmill-like dynamometer -- or not.
Final General Assembly approval of the legislation is considered likely, leaving Gov. Parris N. Glendening with a dilemma:
Should he accept the will of the Assembly and motorists who object to the testing requirement? Or should he veto the bill to preserve air quality and assure that Maryland does not lose millions of dollars in federal aid?
"The governor has said before he feels the tests should be mandatory," said his press secretary, Judi Scioli, "but he will have to consider the matter again and make a judgment."
The mandatory dynamometer testing, which was to begin June 1, was ordered because Maryland fails to meet federal clean air standards.
If the state does not require the tests, federal officials have threatened to withhold money for about 44 highway projects in 11 Maryland counties. Among them are projects on the Baltimore and Washington beltways, Interstate 70 in Frederick County, Route 32 in Howard County and U.S. 1 in Harford County.
Emotions ran high on both sides of the matter during a brief but spirited House debate yesterday.
"This legislation, as proposed, is a little bit like Russian roulette [but] somebody else is holding the gun," said Del. Leon G. Billings, a Montgomery Democrat. He urged an amendment that would make the test mandatory if the federal Environmental Protection Agency continues to insist, but his proposal was rejected.
Another amendment that would have made the test mandatory in Montgomery and several other counties was also defeated.
"My constituents want to be able to do this and to be able to stand up for the quality of the air we breathe," said the amendment's sponsor, Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, another Montgomery Democrat. "There's no reason we shouldn't make it mandatory."
But even in a county where 83 percent of motorists are volunteering for the test, the idea of making it mandatory was not a popular one on the House floor yesterday.
"My constituents are willing to do this voluntarily. They don't need to have it shoved down their throats," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Republican from Calvert, who called the Dembrow proposal "a gutting amendment."
Del. J. Anita Stup, a Frederick Democrat, said motorists in her county -- where participation is 54 percent -- are not happy with the prospect of forced testing, either. "We don't want it," she declared.
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.
Statewide, about 41 percent of motorists are volunteering for the test, in which vehicles have their engines revved to driving speed while remaining stationary on the treadmill-like device as sensors measure pollutants.
Proponents of continuing the voluntary approach included Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Ronald A. Guns, a Democrat from Cecil County, who said the state's testing contractor is not ready to absorb the demand.
Pub Date: 3/25/97