ANNAPOLIS – Sponsors of opposing vehicle emissions inspection bills squared off over the fate of the controversial program in a packed hearing room Thursday.
Sixty-two people signed up to address the House Environmental Matters Committee hearing.
But they were only a fraction of the numbers represented. Earlier Thursday, Del. Martha S. Klima, D-Baltimore County, produced petitions with more than 100,000 signatures calling for the program’s repeal.
The program, the result of the federal Clean Air Act, requires states to reduce air pollution by testing cars on a type of treadmill called a dynanmometer. Vehicles that fail are subject to expensive repairs.
Klima, who has sponsored the repeal bill, argued that the program was too costly and would not help clean up the air. She called it an “example of everything that is wrong with big government.”
In the other corner was Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Kent, the committee chair and sponsor of a bill that would delay the dynanmometer testing for 18 months – an initiative supported by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
By rejecting the program, Guns said, Maryland could face federal sanctions – sanctions that might chase businesses away.
“We are daring Congress to take action,” he warned.
Klima, however, said the stacks of petitions wrapped in yellow ribbons were reason enough to repeal the program, which was authorized by the Legislature in 1991.
“This regulation is a classic example of regulation run amok,” she said. “We’re in favor of clean air. We just don’t think this is the method.”
The committee also discussed bills that would delay the program until neighboring states complied or keep the old tailpipe testing method.
Many legislators noted the loud public outcry over the stricter program.
But Del. Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, said people had rejected the program before anyone actually underwent testing. He called the reaction the result of “talk radio.”
Still, some in the standing-room-only crowd worried that their testimony wouldn’t make a difference.
Chris Crossont, 26, stood in the hallway, wondering why he bothered to make the trip from Dundalk.
“They’re really polished,” he said, referring to the lawmakers and department heads testifying inside.
Although he had planned to speak, Crossont left two hours into the hearing.
And after Billing’s comments, Jacqueline Madison of Baltimore left too, upset at the “arrogance” of lawmakers.
Madison, who with her husband Michael turned in hundreds of signatures calling for repeal, said Billings “belittled the thinking of Maryland citizens….This is the last straw. We have to keep fighting this government control over our lives.”
Crossont, whose father owns AHM Performance auto parts store in Baltimore, said the committee showed more concern for big business than for citizens. Lawmakers would rather have people pay for emissions control than impose stricter standards on business, he said.
“They’re not concerned about clean air. They’re only concerned about collecting money,” he said. -30-