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The treadmill bill veto

May 20, 1997

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, faced with a choice between doing the popular thing and being politically responsible, this week chose to do the right thing, vetoing a bill to make the state's so-called "treadmill test" for auto emissions voluntary. Citizens may grump about this now, but they ought to realize that the alternative would be worse.

Had Glendening signed the bill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency might have withheld $54 million in federal highway assistance funds. EPA also hinted that it might take over the testing program from the state. But the worst-case scenario was that federal officials, faced with an inability to control auto emissions, might have slapped tighter emissions controls on industry.

Is that a real possibility? Ask the power-generation industry, which was forced to add millions or dollars worth of new stack-emission controls, despite the fact that a 10-year study attempting to link power generation to acid rain was inconclusive. As regulated monopolies (at least for a little while longer) power companies can pass along such costs to their customers.

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That's not true for most of the state's manufacturers, whose competitors in other states face less onerous regulations and whose plants are located in states without East Coast-style air pollution. Glendening's action is a signal to Maryland's industries (and others which might be enticed to come here) that state government recognizes the problems they face, and wants to help.

That said, however, Maryland has to take steps to deal with problems at the emissions-testing centers, which have reportedly damaged some vehicles during testing. We say "reportedly" because if anybody's keeping statistics, they haven't been reported.

Glendening needs to follow up his veto with a pledge to make sure that the company doing the testing has employees who are properly trained, and that damaged vehicles are repaired promptly, at the company's expense. The reward for complying with state testing rules should not be a hassle over a damaged vehicle.

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