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Motorists could pay more for auto emissions test

February 10, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Marylanders whose cars fail the vehicle emissions test next year may have to pay more for repairs, state officials said Tuesday.

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The news was more fuel for local lawmakers who are trying to get Washington County residents exempted from the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program.

Motorists now are required to spend no more than $150 to make their car meet pollution regulations.

Beginning in 2000, that cap will increase to at least $450 under federal law, said Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Eastern Shore, chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Adjusted for inflation, the cap could go as high as $600, Guns said during a briefing on the emissions inspection program Tuesday.

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Guns said he's worried about the impact on people who can't afford to buy newer cars or have their old ones repaired.

"Those least able are going to be the most vulnerable," he said.

The emissions standards also will become more strict in the coming years, Guns said.

Two Washington County lawmakers who are trying to exempt county residents from the program also expressed concern about the program's increasing costs.

"It's getting beyond the realm of common sense," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

"That certainly furthers the argument that this vehicle emissions test is overly burdening Washington County citizens," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

But some members of the Environmental Matters Committee, which will review the local exemption, did not seem open to exempting anyone from the law.

Del. Michael H. Weir, D-Baltimore/Harford, questioned how the Motor Vehicle Administration could exempt 42,000 senior citizens from the test.

By one of its rules, the MVA exempts those who are over 70 and drive fewer than 5,000 miles, said MVA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

"It's going to start a reverse effect here," said Del. George W. Owings III, D-Prince George's/Calvert.

Shank and Mooney said they agree with the senior citizen exemption.

"I would like to exempt my entire constituency from the program," Shank said.

Local lawmakers tried, and failed, to exempt county residents from the test in 1996.

While the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Delegates 130 to 7, it was killed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Mooney is now on that committee.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, has said the bill has little chance of passing.

The strict rules came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At Tuesday's briefing Guns also accused the EPA of "holding hostage" highway improvements to Interstates 70 and 270 in Frederick County, Md.

The project was flagged by the EPA because the state's vehicle emissions law expires Dec. 31, 2001, said Marcia Spink, associate director at EPA's regional headquarters in Philadelphia.

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