Anti-smog legislation gains a key victory Senate panel OKs 'California cars' bill


Legislation to reduce smog in Maryland by requiring the sale of low-emission cars gained a key victory yesterday -- but the bill stipulates that neighboring states must lead the motorcade.

The state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee by a 9-2 vote approved a measure that would adopt California's stringent emissions standards.

The legislation is designed to make sure Maryland complies with the federal Clean Air Act.

Similar legislation has died in the Senate the past two years.

But committee members attached a number of strings to the so-called "California cars" bill that would call upon other states to first adopt such a measure.

Committee Chairman Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, and other members who previously opposed the measure were concerned that Maryland would be the only state in the region to agree to the low-emission cars.

Under the bill passed by the committee, Maryland would not have to adopt the emission standards until 60 percent of the registered cars in a region stretching from Maine to Virginia are covered by similar laws.

Now, about 54 percent of the cars are covered in the Northeast region, which includes 11 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, two of the four neighboring jurisdictions -- including the District of Columbia -- would have to pass similar laws. Currently, only Pennsylvania expects to have such a law within a year. Delaware officials expect to push "California cars" legislation next year.

Maryland's law also could go into effect if four of five area jurisdictions enact the legislation by the year 2000. They include the District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania. New Jersey is the only one of those that has enacted such a measure.

Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, where the bill is now heading, called the Senate measure "workable" and expects a briefing next week from state environmental officials.

"Our general feeling is it's appropriate to have a regional bill," said Environment Secretary Robert Perciasepe. "It should be a regional program."

Environmentalists and aides to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the leading force behind the measure, supported the bill and predicted the House would go along.

"It's taken three years. We have a bill," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, state director of Clean Water Action. "It's real progress."

Steven B. Larsen, the governor's assistant legislative officer, said officials made a case to committee members that unless the state requires the sale of cars that burn fuel more cleanly, it would have to take other actions to reduce car pollution. The alternatives might include imposing limits on driving or setting up more high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

The Baltimore area has the sixth worst ozone level of any city in the country, and Washington has the 10th worst, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. By the year 2005, the state has to cut ozone-forming emissions by at least 42 percent to comply with the Clean Air Act.

The state faces the loss of federal highway funding unless it goes along with federal clean air requirements.

State officials said that by complying with everything required under the act, they would still need to cut 77 tons of pollutants per day.

The "California cars" measure alone would reduce that figure by 9 to 15 tons per day, about 12 percent to 19 percent of the total, based on projections that assume the law would go into effect by 1998.

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