Hybrid owners rally for stricter emissions rules

Legislation would adopt California's standards

February 27, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

A parade of more than 50 hybrid vehicles wove through the narrow streets of Annapolis and circled the State House yesterday, creating a brief mini-traffic jam in the name of cleaner air.

The event was designed to show support for the Clean Cars Act, a bill that would require Maryland to adopt tougher emission standards by the 2009 model year.

Car owners came from as far away as Frederick, Allegany County and Takoma Park to express their support, with placards taped to their cars that read "I'd rather be driving a clean car," "Stop climate change" and "Maryland Clean Cars Now."

"I think it is important that we get clean air," said Peter Stegehuis, 41, of Takoma Park. His maroon 2004 Toyota Prius was covered in dirt and salt from the recent snowstorm, so his sign said "Dirty cars for clean air."

The bill the group supports would require Maryland to adopt California's current strict emissions requirements for passenger vehicles, as well as future changes California adopts. Legislators could later repeal the law. Cars sold to Marylanders adhere to the less-stringent federal guidelines.

So-called hybrids, such as the Prius, use a combination of gasoline and electric motors to increase fuel mileage and reduce emissions.

"Maryland has one of the worst smog problems in the country," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which organized the event. Car emissions are a source of greenhouse gases and contribute to smog and respiratory problems.

With the nation's worst smog problem, California began regulating vehicle emissions before the federal government did and is the only state allowed to set standards higher than federal requirements. Seven other states, including New York, use the California rules.

Those rules specify a baseline set of emissions standards slightly more stringent than the federal rules. A set percentage of cars sold must meet even tougher standards.

Marylanders buying new vehicles out of state would have to make sure their cars meet the California standards in order to register them here.

"The people want these cars," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat and lead sponsor of the House version of the bill (H.B. 564)."This isn't us trying to force something on the state that people don't want."

Bobo has sponsored similar legislation during the last two sessions, but both bills died in committee. This year, she said, she hopes to garner the votes to bring the bill to the floor. "The price of gas has gone up," she said, and people have had "a year's more worth of concern about our dependence on foreign oil."

The recent closure of the General Motors plant in Baltimore might work in favor of the bill, said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, who chairs the House Environmental Matters Committee. GM has opposed the legislation, but the closure gives it less leverage with Baltimore-area delegates, she said.

"I think it has a shot. There is no question about that," she said of the legislation.

Still, she said, some committee members are uncomfortable with ceding control of emission standards to California. And car manufactures and dealers strongly oppose the legislation.

"California emission standards are for California problems, and those problems are entirely different," said Travis Martz, a lobbyist with the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association. "You are adopting an entire packet that Maryland legislators would have absolutely no say about."

Furthermore, Martz said, Maryland's 350 new car dealerships would have to keep two inventories - one for Maryland buyers and one for out-of-staters.

Martz said a better solution would be to reduce the number of older cars on the road.

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