State economic development and health officials said today that Maryland's failure to implement an auto-emission-inspection program would likely result in a ban on growth in industrial construction beginning July 1 that could cost the state millions of dollars in federal aid.
The officials' comments to a legislative committee came a day after the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced that 16 states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to control pollution.
The affected areas have 45 days to challenge the finding against them. After that, a variety of sanctions will be imposed, beginning with a ban on certain kinds of major industrial construction that could lead to the loss of as much as $100 million in annual federal aid.
Maryland violated the act by failing to have an auto-emission-inspection program in effect by Dec. 31, the deadline for at least preliminary efforts to control car pollution.
The auto-emission inspection, which will require an annual $9 pollution test for vehicles in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, was approved by the legislature three years ago. It originally was scheduled to go into effect last month, but the plan proved controversial and last session, an election year, the legislature and Gov. Harry Hughes agreed to delay the start of the program until January 1984.
Hans Mayer, deputy secretary of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said today that he expected Maryland would be hit only with the initial sanction of a "growth ban" because its auto-emission inspection, though delayed, is scheduled to begin soon.
The General Assembly is considering several measures to weaken or repeal the inspection program. Several of those bills, which are given little chance of passage, especially in light of the EPA action this week, were heard today before the House Environmental Matters Committee.
According to Mayer and Tom Saquella, executive assistant to the secretary of the Department of Economic and Community Development, a ban on growth from July until next January, when the emissions progam is set to begin, would have little practical effect.
"But more than six months you could have real problems," Saquella said. "When the word gets out that Maryland has a growth ban it would have a chilling effect on businesses."
A ban on growth would apply to the construction or expansion of any business that produces more than 100 tons a day of any of the major air pollutants--including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and nitrogen oxide. But Mayer said the department knows of no scheduled expansion or construction projects that would be affected by the ban.
Ellen Fraites, Maryland's liaison on Capitol Hill, said EPA indicated that the state would have until next fall before stronger sanctions--including the loss of highway and sewer money--would be applied.
A report by a special joint committee set up last year to study the issue said year-long sanctions could cost Maryland approximately $60 million in highway funds, $30 million to $35 million in sewage treatment grants, and $1.5 million in money for air quality programs.