Cleaner air for the nation Automakers pledge: A 49-state emissions system is rational way to reduce smog.


THE PLEDGE of major automakers to produce a car that reduces current tailpipe pollution by 70 percent is a rational, feasible answer to stringent federal clean-air requirements imposed on the states.

The new auto would be sold this fall in the Northeast and by 2002 in other states (California keeps its tougher standards). For Maryland, the cleaner nationwide auto promises relief from further restrictions on local industries, and improved air quality and public health.

It is a neater, practical solution to the persistent problem of auto pollution than a plan by Maryland and other northeastern states to require auto manufacturers to produce a distinct emissions system only for cars sold in this region.

The industry proposes to refine existing technology -- catalytic converters and electronic fuel injectors -- to produce a "99 percent emissions-free" vehicle. There's no reliance on untested technology. The plan, endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency, is not a total solution. Further ways to cut smog-causing pollutants may be needed.

The plan avoids inefficiencies and consumer costs of a patchwork system of emissions standards. It blunts the mandate that electric cars be sold on the Eastern seaboard. It would produce cleaner auto exhausts, no matter where a car is purchased or driven.

New-car buyers will pay $100 or so for this improved system. Squeezing the last parts of pollution from the system, whether autos or power plants, is always more costly; air quality in Baltimore increasingly depends on these more difficult, incremental improvements.

This doesn't let automakers off the hook. Tougher emissions standards still can be enacted to address deteriorating air-quality conditions. Recent studies point to popular sport-utility vehicles and diesel trucks as heavier polluters than previously believed.

Auto industry commitment was not voluntary, but in response to threats of tighter government regulation. By pushing for a tougher emissions system in the region, the northeastern states did much to ensure this agreement on a cleaner car for the United States.

Pub Date: 2/22/98

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