Can Maryland afford the loss of 60,000 jobs a year because its air is too polluted? Absolutely not. That's one of the main reasons state legislators have an obligation to support the Schaefer administration's plan to require less-polluting cars by the 1998 model year, or sooner if surrounding states approve similar programs.
Actually, state lawmakers have little choice: The federal Clean Air Act imposes tough requirements on states to lower their air pollution levels. Maryland must achieve a 15 percent reduction in emissions by 1997 and an additional 3 percent each following year until air pollution has been reduced sufficiently. If lawmakers don't mandate tougher auto-emissions standards, the only way to cut pollution is to curb industrial development in Maryland. That amounts to economic suicide.
A consultant study for the American Lung Association found that if state or federal regulators crack down on industry in Maryland, the cost in jobs lost will be 60,000 a year. Clearly, it would be far cheaper and better environmentally to reduce auto emissions.
By turning to the so-called California-type cars that emit low or no pollution, Maryland could reap a huge reward. We could cut air pollution by the equivalent of 27 million auto miles a day. That's similar to removing the pollution level of 12 Sparrows Point steel plants from the state's air.
And as older cars are replaced by the cleaner-burning models, Maryland's pollution problems should decrease dramatically. From a health standpoint, it's an essential step. The detrimental impact of air pollution on the human body still is not fully known, but tens of thousands of Marylanders suffer every time the region's air pollution reaches dangerous levels in the summer months.
How much will this cost consumers? The auto industry says $1,200 per car; state regulators and other experts say $200 may be closer to the truth. But as more states start to mandate these cleaner-polluting cars, the cost to the customer should shrink quickly. Even at these prices, though, it's still a bargain.
If we want to preserve and even improve our quality of life, requiring less-polluting automobiles is imperative. It is a smart dollars-and-cents move, and an even smarter common-sense move.