Clearing the air

Maryland plan: Baltimore needs to lose 13 tons a day of pollutants to meet federal air quality goal.

December 04, 1999

MARYLAND'S plan to clean up Baltimore's air pollution is close to the federally mandated goal for 2002, but squeezing out another 13 tons of pollutants from the local atmosphere each day presents some serious challenges.

Of the nine U.S. metro areas with serious smog problems, Baltimore comes closest to meeting the federal standard, with only that 13-ton shortfall, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Houston, on the other hand, exceeds the clean air standard by 118 tons per day.

The current plan for the Baltimore metro region calls for expanded reliance on motor vehicle emissions testing and on cuts in pollution from coal-fired power plants in the state. The state is holding back on funding major highway projects.

One added measure could be the return of the "commuter options" proposal that sought to force city employers to limit their workers' commuting by auto.

Reducing vehicle emissions is the primary strategy. But that is often a result of federal new car exhaust rules. Tighter state inspection programs can cut only so much from total emissions: The 13 tons of excess daily air pollution in the Baltimore region is roughly equivalent to removing 160,000 cars from the road.

More autos on the roads mean more air pollution, even if each new car has a cleaner exhaust system than the old car it replaced.

Blocking new highway projects may discourage more auto travel on clogged routes. But ever-worsening traffic jams on existing roads will add to the area's air pollution.

Two federal programs offer hope for the Baltimore region: requirements for cleaner fuel and cleaner-burning new car engines, and a crackdown on dirty coal power plants in the Midwest, whose pollutants are blown into the East's airsheds.

The EPA is also tightening the screws on state air quality permits, pressing builders of new air polluting facilities, such as Lehigh Portland Cement's new factory in Carroll County, to install better cleanup technology.

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