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House panel kills VEIP bill

March 26, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A House panel Thursday ended any hope that Washington County residents will get out of the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program this year.

With no debate, the Environmental Matters Committee voted 13-6 to kill the county delegation's bill, which would have exempted county residents from the emissions test.

The decision came as no surprise to members of the delegation, who faced tough questions from the committee at a hearing on the bill earlier this month.

"Obviously it's a disappointment but I don't think our fight is over," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

A similar bill to exempt the county from the treadmill test passed the House of Delegates in 1996 but died in the Senate.

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Freshman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, revived the VEIP debate this year by asking the delegation to pursue the bill.

"We did our best to make the argument. The threat of environmental sanctions has changed the atmosphere down here," Shank said.

The Maryland General Assembly is under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the program going or face the loss of federal highway funds.

Members of the committee also were concerned the state could lose $480,000 a year in inspection fees. About 40,000 cars are inspected in the county each year at a cost of $12 each.

The bill was opposed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which argued that pollution generated in Washington County drifts to the metropolitan area.

Washington County is in the program because it is considered part of the metropolitan area.

The delegation will consider several strategies for lifting the program's burden in the next legislative session, said Delegation Chairman Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

One alternative is to give residents across the state tax credits for the cost of repairs.

McKee co-sponsored a similar bill this year that was killed in the Ways and Means Committee because it would have cost the state $10 million.

Now, motorists are required to spend no more than $150 to make their cars meet pollution regulations. Beginning in 2000, that cap will increase to at least $450 and to as much as $600 under federal law.

Or the delegation might pursue a state refund for the EPA credits that Washington County provides for the state, Shank said.

The Environmental Matters Committee has no Washington County representatives. The VEIP vote fell mostly along party lines with Republicans, including two Frederick County delegates, supporting the bill.

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