Lobbyists ask delay on bill

Senate panel weighs adoption of California emission standards

General Assembly

January 26, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,sun reporter

With Annapolis leadership united behind a bill to require tougher emissions standards for new cars sold in Maryland, members of the auto industry asked a legislative committee yesterday to delay approval until an independent study of the science involved can be undertaken.

"The truth of the matter is, the federal standards are [already] very, very clean," said William Kress, a lobbyist representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group. "I encourage you to go out and get more information on this."

But proponents of the so-called "clean car" bill said Maryland must act now to reduce vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming. State officials, environmentalists, nurses and a class of Queen Anne's County fourth-graders testified in favor of the legislation.

Gov. Martin O'Malley made the initiative one of his legislative priorities last week, adding significant momentum. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch have also signaled their support, co-sponsoring the bill in their respective chambers of the General Assembly.

"There's clearly a lot of support for it, and I'm hoping it goes through real quick," said Brad Heavner, president of Environment Maryland, an advocacy group.

Under the proposal, Maryland would join 10 other states in adopting California's emissions standards, forcing automakers to reduce their fleetwide emissions of such pollutants as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and benzene by 2011.

Environmental groups testified yesterday that the requirements would eventually slash nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay as well as carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

"This bill gives the state an opportunity to make significant progress in respect to air quality," said Shari T. Wilson, O'Malley's choice to lead the state's Department of the Environment.

Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey are among the states have adopted the California rstandards, and several other states are considering adopting them.

Heavner said the proposal would encourage production of more hybrid gas and electric vehicles that save on gas.

But critics said yesterday that Maryland would be adopting only one part of a broader package of regulations that make California's standards successful. Federal regulations sufficiently cut down on pollutants, they testified. Cars could cost $1,000 more under the proposed state legislation, though advocates say that would be offset by increased fuel efficiency.

The dealers say they are proposing a delay rather than trying to quash the measure. They want Maryland to set up a commission of scientists and lawmakers to study the best way to address air quality issues.

"We would be more than willing to go along with [the initiative] if somebody independently looks at the science of it," said Peter Kitzmiller, president of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association. "[And] if cars cost more, we'll know where to point customers when they get upset."

Robert F. Babik, an engineer with General Motors, suggested Maryland find ways to encourage the purchase of hybrid cars rather than requiring manufacturers to use new technology.

In Baltimore, for example, hybrid drivers can receive discounted rates at parking garages.

"We're bringing the technology to the marketplace. ... What we need to do is change consumer behavior," Babik told legislators.

Yesterday's hearing was held before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the panel that killed a similar bill in 2005 by one vote.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the committee chairman and the bill's lead sponsor, called critics "Chicken Littles" who have tried to block regulations at every turn.

"I think this bill is an affordable and extremely important step forward with respect to air pollution, health of Marylanders, and global warming," said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.


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