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Lawmakers questioned on VEIP plan

March 19, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County lawmakers faced tough questions Thursday on their plan to exempt the county from the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program.

For instance, members of the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee wanted to know what would happen to the emissions inspection station off Md. 144.

"How are we going to pay it off if we close it?" asked Del. Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, a longtime opponent of county efforts to get out of VEIP.

"It would make a fine car wash," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Shank, fulfilling a campaign promise, led the county's renewed VEIP fight by convincing the eight-member Washington County Delegation to sponsor the bill.

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"To the Washington County Delegation, this is a fairness issue. Since our air is already clean, we do not believe our residents should be forced to comply," Shank testified.

But Del. James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George's, said he didn't want to see what he views as a model program end.

Hubbard asked how the state would make up for Clean Air Act credits lost if Washington County wasn't in the program.

Neither Shank nor Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, had an answer.

Because the bill was filed late, the committee did not allow any witnesses to testify at Thursday's hearing.

However, the committee did get written comments in opposition.

A letter from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said that exempting Washington County from VEIP runs counter to the state's pollution reduction programs.

"Unfortunately, the air pollutants that come from vehicles are not limited to county boundaries," wrote senior scientist Kimberly L. Coble.

The state would lose $480,000 a year if 40,000 county residents didn't have to pay the $12 inspection fee, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

The Maryland Department of Environment said the state could risk federal funding if Washington County were removed from the program.

The office of Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke also wrote against the bill.

McKee said he expected a chilly reception from the committee, which has a record of killing such bills.

In 1996, a bill exempting county residents from the treadmill part of the test was approved by the committee and the House of Delegates.

"The climate's changed," McKee said.

That bill later died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, who is now a member of that committee, withdrew a companion VEIP bill this session.

"I take it Mooney saw the light," said Committee Chairman Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Eastern Shore.

Shank said Mooney wanted to see how the bill fared in the House.

If the bill is killed, Shank said a question from a committee member gave him an idea.

Del. Robert C. Baldwin, R-Anne Arundel, asked if the county would pursue being reimbursed for the clean air credits it is supplying to the rest of the state.

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