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Future of treadmill pollution test in Glendening's hands

April 01, 1997

By TOM STUCKEY

Associated Press Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Legislation to make the unpopular treadmill automobile emissions test voluntary instead of mandatory won final approval in the House of Delegates Monday, handing Gov. Parris Glendening a tricky political problem.

If Glendening signs the bill, he risks the loss of federal funds. If he vetoes it, he could anger voters who might retaliate when they go to the polls in next year's gubernatorial election.

The governor declined to commit Monday.

``I don't think we should rush on it,'' Glendening said. ``We have to consider what are the alternatives in meeting federal standards.''

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The federal Environmental Protection Agency has threatened sanctions if Maryland abandons the mandatory treadmill test scheduled to begin June 1. The EPA says the state likely won't meet federal clean air standards without it.

Penalties could include a federal takeover of the state's auto emissions program, the loss of $54 million or more in federal highway funds and the requirement that every time the state adds a new business it must eliminate twice as much pollution as the company generates.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Maryland director for Clean Water Action, said supporters of the treadmill program have two options:

``We can ask (Glendening) to veto it and save the state from federal sanctions,'' she said. ``Or we can let the law take effect and bring everybody back when the sanctions take effect.''

The latter would mean calling the legislature back for a special session. House Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Ronald Guns, D-Cecil, said even if the federal government were to find Maryland in noncompliance with federal clean air standards, sanctions could not occur before the next legislative session.

Ms. Schmidt-Perkins said environmentalists lost backing of legislators who usually support them. She attributes that to fear of voter retribution.

``They are not going to take the heat on a done deal,'' she said.

To conduct the tests, car engines are run at simulated highway speeds on a treadmill while tailpipe emissions are checked. Critics say the machines damage cars, but supporters say cars rarely suffer and the test will help Maryland meet the clean air standards set by federal law.

Critics also argue the tailpipe test is just as efficient in determining which vehicles are putting excessive levels of pollutants into the air.

But environmentalists, backed up by the EPA, said the treadmill does a better job of protecting air quality by getting high-polluting vehicles off the road.

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