House OKs `clean cars' bill

Senate vote is due

February 21, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,sun reporter

Maryland's proposed "clean cars" bill is speeding through the legislature, approved by a vote of 122-16 in the House of Delegates yesterday and headed for a final vote in the state Senate this week.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee endorsed the pollution controls by a vote of 9-2 last week.

The bill has bipartisan support and is backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"This will significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles in Maryland," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and a sponsor of the bill. "This is a critical step that we need to take to reduce emissions that are endangering the whole planet."

If the bill is approved, Maryland would join 11 states -- representing a third of the nation's drivers -- that follow California's stricter vehicle emission standards.

California's rules have been adopted by Pennsylvania and New Jersey, among other states. The regulations demand that all new cars have an extra $150 in smog-control equipment that is not required in states that follow the slightly more relaxed federal standards.

Starting in 2009, the coalition of states following the California rules will also begin reducing greenhouse gases. By 2016, auto manufacturers will be required to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other global-warming pollutants by their fleet by 30 percent in those states.

Some vehicles will meet the requirement with more efficient engines, others with hybrid technology. The additional cost is estimated to be an average of about $1,000 per vehicle, according to the California Air Resources Board, a panel appointed by California's governor that sets the standards.

Car dealers have lobbied against the bill, saying the cost to buyers could be three times that amount.

Brad Heavner, executive director of Environment Maryland, an advocacy group, said there are minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

For example, an amendment in the House bill would require the state to hire academic researchers to conduct a study by 2013 on whether the pollution limits are harming the state's economy. The Senate measure would set up a task force to study the impact of the regulations.

Heavner said the amendments don't weaken the bill and reconciling the differences should not pose a stumbling block, given widespread support for the legislation.

"I think it's wonderful that Maryland is finally catching up with other states in putting this in place," he said. "This is one very strong step toward cleaning up one of the largest sources of pollution in Maryland."

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