ANNAPOLIS, MARCH 2 -- The state Senate, after sharp debate, passed a bill today requiring Maryland car owners to have car emissions tested for pollutants every two years instead of annually. The vote came despite the objections of some lawmakers who denounced the testing program as "a fraud and a bunch of hypocrisy."
The measure, approved on a 33-to-12 vote, also would make it more difficult to get waivers for vehicles that failed the test on their first attempt, would extend the tests to certain trucks and would add inspections to ensure that drivers have not tampered with antipollution devices.
The Senate's vote means that both chambers of the General Assembly have passed legislation extending the emissions tests on a biennial basis. But the two bills differ significantly in the way the tests would be financed, and those differences must be ironed out before legislation can be enacted.
Maryland has conducted the emissions tests since 1984 in its metropolitan areas, including the Washington suburbs, in an attempt to bring the levels of ozone and carbon monoxide below the air pollution limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
State and federal environmental officials have told the General Assembly that Maryland must continue testing, which would expire at the end of this year unless the legislature extends it, or risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal highway subsidies.
"There is a sickness in this state and it is called the lack of clear air," Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad (D-Anne Arundel) said today in defending the tests. "This is one of those pills we have to take in Maryland in order to get better."
But, in the sharpest debate this year on the Senate floor, other legislators said that testing was ineffective and they were skeptical that the federal government would carry out its threat to withhold highway assistance.
"I don't mind taking aspirin or Tylenol," Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County) replied to Winegrad. "But I'll be damned if I'm taking cyanide.
"This bill has no merit," Coolahan said. "It's a bad bill, it's a fraud, it's a bunch of hypocrisy.
"If we were serious, we would go with one-year inspections and reinspections, and, if you did not pass, your car is off the road. But we don't have the guts to do that, because our constituents would tar and feather us, and that's what's wrong with this bill."
Instead, the bill would allow waivers for cars that failed the test if their owners paid $75 to try to repair them.
But Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which had recommended the bill, said the state should not risk losing its federal road subsidies. "I don't want to take the chance we are going to cost the people of the state those kinds of dollars, nor do I want to gamble with the lives and health of the people of this state," Baker said.
The House bill calls for continuing the present financing method, in which car owners pay a fee -- now $9 -- at the time of the test. But the Senate version would spread the cost throughout the state by adding surcharges to vehicle registration fees.