In the face of fierce opposition from industry, the Maryland Department of the Environment is backing away from proposed strict rules to protect the Chesapeake Bay from oil spills.
John K. Chlada, the department's coordinator for emergency management, confirmed yesterday that the proposed rules are on hold and that Environmental Secretary Robert Perciasepe has told the department to revise them to satisfy environmental and economic concerns.
The secretary "recognized there is a potential problem" and has "instructed the department to work out concerns with the regulated community," he said.
A committee representing industrial and environmental interests is being formed to reconsider the proposed rules, he said. Participants have not been chosen.
Under the proposed rules, oil barge and tanker operators would have had until July 1993 to replace their fleets with double-hull vessels or continue to operate single-hull vessels if they were accompanied by escort boats or equipped with devices to detect any loss of cargo.
A double hull affords greater protection against oil spills.
The industry said the requirements were too expensive, technically unfeasible and possibly ineffective. Unable to meet the requirements, operators would be forced out of business and the resulting lack of marine transportation of oil would wreak havoc with the state's economy, industry representatives argued.
They said the Eastern Shore, which depends on water transportation for most of its heating oil and gasoline, and the port of Baltimore would be particularly hard hit.
Environmentalists expressed disappointment that the proposed rules might be weakened. Joan Willey, the field representative for the Sierra Club in Annapolis, said the state's proposed rules were reasonable.
"The Chesapeake Bay has been seriously damaged by human impact," she said.
C. Duff Hughes, president of Baltimore-based Vane Brothers, said the industry sympathizes with the goal of protecting the environment and that his company has voluntarily begun using double-hull barges for transporting heavy oil.
But, he argued, the proposed state rules are "unrealistic," he said.
Morton A. Sacks, a lawyer for Maguire Woods Battle and Booth, which had opposed the regulations on behalf of the industry, said yesterday that he was encouraged by the state's decision to reconsider the proposed rules but remained concerned.
"It's not an issue that's really resolved as yet. To the extent they're forming a study group that's indeed commendable," he said.
Mr. Sacks credited a letter written to Gov. William Donald Schaefer by Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, with getting the state to reconsider hold off on imposing the rules.
In addition to objections about the timetable for double hulls, the industry argued that escort vessels would be prohibitively expensive.