MASSACHUSETTS residents may soon be breathing easier. Following California's lead, the Bay State has adopted the most stringent clean-air legislation in the country. The new law makes Massachusetts the second state in the country to enact tougher automobile emissions standards than those in the federal Clean Air Act.
``This goes well beyond the federal Clean Air Act,'' says state Rep. David Cohen (D). ``This bill allows us to implement the strictest standards allowable under the law.''
According to the legislation, passed last December, hydrocarbon emissions are to be reduced by 75 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 50 percent, beyond current federal standards. Both toxic compounds, released through automobile tailpipe emissions, are said to contribute to acid rain, global warming, and other environmental problems.
The law will be phased in for cars sold in the state, beginning with the 1995 model year. The legislation also includes California's strong warranty, manufacturing, and recall provisions. The measure provides, for example, that any pollution-control equipment valued at a retail price of more than $250 be covered by a warranty for seven years or 70,000 miles.
Representative Cohen says he hopes the law will set a precedent for other states: ``I hope the action of Massachusetts will be the catalyst [for other Northeastern states] and indeed the catalyst for other states in the nation.''
Bay State environmentalists say the law will help alleviate the state's air-quality problems. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers Boston the 11th worst US city for smog, says Jenny Carter, an environmental attorney for Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.
In addition, Massachusetts has had at least 40 days of unhealthy air quality over the last three summers by EPA standards, Ms. Carter says.
Other Northeastern states have shown a commitment to strict clean-air regulation. In August 1989, a group of environmental officials from all six New England states, New Jersey, and New York signed an agreement to promote stricter clean-air regulation in their states. The group, called Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), also lobbied hard to get the current automobile-emissions standards included the federal Clean Air Act, passed last fall.
New York already has a clean-air law, but it is not as strict as those in Massachusetts or California. New York's law, which was modeled after California's initial clean-air law for 1993 model vehicles, is also similar to the current federal law.
Yet NESCAUM executive director Michael Bradley says the federal law is still not tough enough.
``The question for the Northeast is: Will they [federal regulations] be sufficient over 10 years to reduce automobile emissions?'' Mr. Bradley says. ``When we look at the magnitude of the problem in the Northeast and the overwhelming contribution of motor-vehicle emissions, then it probably will not be enough.''
Other Northeastern states, such as Maine and Rhode Island, are looking into proposing laws similar to the Bay State's. Virginia, Texas, Florida, and Illinois are also considering proposals. In Maryland and New Jersey, bills similar to the new Massachusetts law are awaiting legislative consideration.
Some environmentalists, disappointed with the federal law, say it is up to the states to pass their own measures.
``We were hoping that the federal Clean Air Act would have been agressive and would have followed Calfornia's [low emissions law],'' Carter says, ``[but] Congress ... left it up to states.''
The auto industry says the strict emissions rules will mean only added costs passed on to the consumer.
Thomas Joyce, a Boston lawyer and auto industry lobbyist, estimates the new pollution-control measures will cost an extra $500 to $750 per vehicle, although others say the cost will be as low as $170.
``Whether that cost is bearable in these fiscally troubled times, that's up to the consumer,'' Mr. Joyce says. ``The consumer needs to know there is no free lunch in this world.''