Ignoring an explicit warning that the federal government will punish the state for failing to meet clean air standards, the House of Delegates gave final approval yesterday to legislation that would keep Maryland's treadmill-like vehicle emissions test voluntary.
The bill now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening for signature or veto. Although three of his Cabinet secretaries have lobbied against the bill, Glendening has declined to say what he will do.
The House voted 83-46 to approve the bill after hearing jTC assurances from a committee chairman that the state would have 18 to 24 months to negotiate with the Environmental Protection Agency to avoid sanctions that could cost the state as much as $98 million in transportation funds.
"There's no clock ticking," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee. The Cecil County Democrat said Maryland would have another annual legislative session in which to make changes before any sanctions could take effect.
Last night, a high-ranking EPA official said Guns was wrong.
W. Michael McCabe, the EPA's regional administrator, said Del. Leon G. Billings was correct when he told legislators that federal transportation aid probably will be cut before the end of the year if the state does not make the controversial dynamometer test mandatory.
"We've basically given all the extensions we can give," said McCabe.
Billings, a Montgomery County Democrat whose warnings are frequently dismissed by his fellows, told the House that without the mandatory dynamometer test, Maryland will not have an approved clean-air plan.
He said that 120 days after the EPA finds that Maryland is not in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, the Federal Highway Administration is required by law to cut the flow of federal dollars.
Billings offered an amendment that would have negated the effect of the law if the federal government did move to impose sanctions.
The amendment was defeated on a 78-45 vote after Guns warned legislators that changing the bill so late in the session could guarantee its failure.
McCabe said Maryland is under the gun as a result of a Wednesday consent decree settling a suit brought by environmental groups against the EPA. Under that decree, he said, the EPA must approve or disapprove Maryland's clean air plan by May 15.
Without the mandatory dynamometer program, Maryland almost certainly will not be in compliance because its plan depends so heavily on the technology.
"If there weren't this court order, I could wait longer," said McCabe. He added that within six to nine months, Maryland is almost certain to be denied federal transportation funds.
By passing the bill, the General Assembly in effect puts a sharp-clawed monkey squarely on the governor's back. Either he can veto the bill and endure the wrath of many citizens who regard the test as an intrusion on their freedom, or he can outrage environmentalists and watch many state roads projects grind to a halt.
Billings said that was precisely what many legislators wanted to see. "The decision was made to embarrass the governor," he said.
Motorists in Baltimore and 13 counties are required to take their vehicles in for emissions tests every two years.
Pub Date: 4/01/97