The state Senate approved the "clean cars" bill last night, making it nearly certain that Maryland will become the 11th state to follow California's lead in cutting smog and global warming gases.
Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged to sign the measure, which passed 38-9. The House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly last week to approve a similar bill, and the two chambers must resolve only minor differences.
"Governor O'Malley looks forward to signing this historic legislation to improve air quality in our state and put Maryland at the forefront of the fight against global warming," said administration spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.
The measure is designed to force manufacturers to sell fewer gas-guzzling SUVs and other large vehicles and to instead market more hybrids and other cars with fuel-efficient engines.
Automakers must cut fleetwide emissions of global warming gases - that is, the average emissions of all the cars they sell in Maryland - by 30 percent by 2016 or face fines.
To meet this goal, car companies will have to offer financial incentives to encourage people to buy smaller cars and vehicles that emit less carbon dioxide, a gas that scientists have concluded is warming the atmosphere.
The extra cost to consumers of buying a hybrid or a car with a more efficient engine is expected to average about $1,000 per vehicle, though this might be offset by greater fuel efficiency, according to advocates for the legislation.
Carmakers say the legislation could cost consumers three times as much - an average of $3,000 per vehicle. They have sued in federal court in California to try to block the carbon dioxide controls.
Under another provision of the bill, all cars sold in Maryland would be required to have about $150 in smog-control devices not mandated in states that don't follow the California rules. The legislation would affect new vehicle sales starting in 2010.
About one-third of U.S. drivers now are in compliance with California's stricter pollution standards, including those in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Washington and Oregon.
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, the Republican whip from Howard County, argued on the Senate floor last night that Maryland is giving up its sovereignty by adopting the California standards. "We would be allowing the mayor of Riverside to be enacting regulations that affect the citizens of Maryland," Kittleman said. "I don't think that's a good idea."
But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a sponsor of the bill, said the U.S. government gives Maryland a choice only between federal vehicle emission standards and the tougher California requirements. Adopting the California rules will help those with asthma, reduce smog and slow global warming, he said. "California standards will be a big improvement for Maryland," said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Automakers and car dealers have fought the legislation and urged lawmakers to delay a vote to enable further study. Some say the added costs will discourage sales, hurt customers and do nothing to stop global warming.
Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the main effect of the law will be to make it harder for customers to buy the large SUVs and pickup trucks that they want. "We think it will limit vehicle choice for the people of Maryland," he said.
Brad Heavner, executive director of Environment Maryland, said the law will mean that vehicles in the state will emit 4.4 million fewer tons of global warming gases per year by 2020. This isn't enough to stop climate change, he said, but it's a step in the right direction because cars and trucks emit about a quarter of greenhouse gases.
The law will allow people to keep buying big vehicles, but they will cost more.
"It will be cheaper and easier to get the low-polluting vehicles, and you'll pay a little more for the high-polluting ones," he said.
Environmental officials in New York, Massachusetts and other states that adopted the California standards say the smog-reduction requirements have helped cut ozone pollution that triggers asthma.
Here's how the law works: An 11-member committee appointed by California's governor, called the California Air Resources Board, sets limits on a variety of pollutants from cars and trucks.
Under a 1977 amendment to the federal Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can regulate auto emissions. It was given special authority because it has the worst vehicle pollution in the nation. Other states were later given the option of following either the federal standards or California's stricter limits.
In states using those rules, car dealers can only sell vehicles certified to meet the California standards, which are up to 15 percent tougher than federal limits for smog-forming pollutants. In addition, the fleet of new cars sold by automakers in those states must, on average, emit one-third fewer greenhouse gases within a decade.
"Maryland is stepping up to do its part to turn the tide on global warming," said Cindy Schwartz, director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Two years ago, the bill failed to make it out of a House of Delegates committee after it was opposed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s environmental agency.
State Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, said the election of O'Malley, a Democrat, gave the bill a boost. O'Malley and his environmental secretary, Shari Wilson, supported the pollution controls.
"The expert testimony did a 180-degree turn," said Bobo. "Two years ago, the Department of the Environment testified strongly against the bill. This year, the Department of the Environment came in and testified strongly in favor of the bill. There is no doubt in my mind that made a huge difference."
Among those voting in favor of the bill last night was Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, who said his rating from an environmental organization "was about 16 percent" out of 100. But he said Maryland must reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution from all sources, including nitrogen from vehicle exhaust.
"My business rating is probably going to go down," Stoltzfus said. "Maybe my environmental rating will go up, but I doubt it. To me, the right thing to do is to vote for California cars."
Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.
What the bill will do
Reduce global warming emissions from new cars sold in Maryland by, on average, 30 percent by 2016.
Penalize automakers that don't meet the standard. They must offer customers incentives to buy hybrids and other efficient vehicles.
Cost buyers about $1,000 more per vehicle, on average. Most of the cost will be for big vehicles that need engine upgrades to pollute less.
Require all cars sold in Maryland to have about $150 in smog-control equipment not standard in most states.