ANNAPOLIS – Car manufacturers and dealers clashed with advocates for cleaner air and the Chesapeake Bay in a Senate committee hearing Wednesday over whether Maryland should adopt California’s stricter standards for vehicle emissions over those mandated by the federal government.
Ehrlich administration officials united before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to say the bills — introduced in both chambers of the General Assembly — are bad for business.
Secretary of Business and Economic Development Aris Melissaratos said the state was devastated when General Motors shut down its production facility at Broening Highway in Baltimore. And it’s imperative, he said, the state maintain a business-friendly climate to save GM’s remaining power train line at White Marsh.
“We have to leave the welcome mat out,” Melissaratos said.
But Chairman Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, countered, “It seems to me that you’re saying we have to be a doormat and lie down and have GM walk all over us.” Frosh noted that he thought GM had closed its plant because it was no longer economically viable.
A GM official later testified the plant was closed because the cars were not selling well.
Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, sponsor of the bill, noted that Maryland is in frequent violation of federal smog standards, causing problems for people with asthma and leading to other lung diseases.
Smog is a perennial problem in urban Maryland in the summer when sunlight and nitrogen oxide and volatile organic chemicals from vehicle emissions react to form ozone and create a “red” day, bad for breathing.
A later witness, Dr. Lorne Garretson of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, noted that childhood athletes — who breathe the most bad air — end up with the worst lung damage.
Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan — who said he has a 15-year-old daughter with asthma — argued that vehicles meeting the California standards would cost $1,200-$1,300 more. That means fewer people would buy them, leading to an aging vehicle fleet. Also he said pollution would decrease more under federal standards.
But several senators put the vehicle cost increase at $300 per car; the higher figure was for vehicles to meet future California standards.
Frosh asked whether the fiscal note and increased cost had taken into account the fuel savings of more efficient vehicles. Flanagan admitted that it had not.
“It’s just a speculative saving,” Flanagan said.
“If you own a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and then buy a car that gets 50 miles per gallon, it’s not speculative at all that you’ll save money on fuel,” Frosh said.
“It’s very unseemly to argue with your chairman,” Flanagan said.
Several health professionals reminded senators that childhood asthma is known to be aggravated by pollution and can result in emergency room visits or even death, especially in student athletes.
George Maurer from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation noted that vehicle emissions contribute nearly one-third of the nitrogen pollution that leads to algae blooms, smothering of undersea grasses, and fish-killing loss of oxygen in the bay.
Maryland is a victim of its strange geography, where much pollution is carried in from Ohio or Pennsylvania or West Virginia, which have not adopted the California standards.
Meanwhile, car dealers often have customers in three states plus the District.
The auto industry presented charts showing that the California standards would reduce emissions only a percentage point or two better than the federal standards over a 10-year period.
But Brad Heavner of MARYPirg said the comparison is of apples and oranges because the California standards included fuel and fumes evaporating from the whole vehicle, not just emissions from tailpipes. The California standards then would remove 12 to 15 percent more pollutants than the federal standards between the vehicles’ first introduction in 2008 and 2025.
– 30 – CNS-2-23-05