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Auto Firms Try to Throttle Smog Bill : Last-Minute Pleas Made to Persuade Governor to Veto Measure

Times Staff Writer

Detroit auto makers are staging a last-minute effort to persuade Gov. George Deukmejian to veto a clean-air bill aimed at reducing smog by 5% a year in California.

Deukmejian, who has only two more days to complete work on more than 1,200 bills sent to him by the Legislature, did not take action on the smog bill. But he did veto two conservationist-backed clean-water bills and signed into law legislation designed to eliminate the problem of broken windshields caused by rocks and gravel flying off trucks.

Officials from Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are complaining to the governor that the anti-smog bill would levy unusually steep fees on them for certifying the cars and trucks they sell in California.

The author of the bill, Assemblyman Byron D. Sher (D-Palo Alto), is crying foul. He said the auto makers had taken a neutral position on the bill, only to jump in as opponents at the last minute.

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Legislative sources who have been following the bill said the governor has not indicated what position he will take, but they said Administration officials have been expressing more uncertainty about the bill’s prospects than they were before the opposition developed.

Sher, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, calls the bill “the most important air quality bill in the last decade.”

Target of Legislation

The legislation is designed to crack down on regions of the state, such as the Los Angeles Basin and other major urban areas, that are not now meeting federal and state air quality standards. It would do that by mandating a minimum 5% annual smog reduction on local air quality agencies. The legislation covers stationary “smokestack” polluters as well as mobile sources of pollution, such as cars and trucks. To meet the goals, local agencies would have new authority to regulate and control sources of pollution.

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Initially, the legislation faced strong opposition from oil companies and other stationary polluters as well as automobile manufacturers. But a series of compromises led to agreement on most elements of the bill and the measure was approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

With the state Air Resources Board arguing in favor of the bill, supporters were optimistic that Deukmejian would sign it. Now they are worried.

Sher said: “We’re concerned because the automobile manufacturers have a lot of clout.”

Officials of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have all written letters to Deukmejian urging him to veto the bill. They have also met with Deukmejian aides to argue against the legislation.

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The auto manufacturers fear that the legislation would dramatically increase the fees they pay the state as reimbursement for regulatory costs incurred in administering the smog control program.

The bill caps the fees at $4.5 million a year, which auto makers say is much more than they are paying now. Chrysler, which paid $57,125 in vehicle certification fees in 1986-87, estimates it would have to pay $450,000 if the cap of $4.5 million in annual fees is reached. Ford’s fees of $42,000 now would rise to $900,000, and fees paid by General Motors would go from $82,900 to $900,000 a year, industry sources said.

G. Lee Ridgeway, lobbyist for General Motors, said: “It just seems to us that we will end up having to pay for the program. Until they proposed the fees, we didn’t have a problem with the bill.”

John White, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said: “The Detroit auto manufacturers are making a big mistake, putting profits ahead of what clearly is in the best interest of California. If they succeed and the governor vetoes the bill, they will wish he hadn’t. There are people waiting for a reason to start an initiative campaign, and this could be it.”

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The developments came against the backdrop of two more vetoes by Deukmejian Wednesday of environmentalist-backed legislation.

One of the bills would require the State Water Resources Control Board to develop clean water quality objectives for the state’s bays and estuaries. The other would require the water board to identify “toxic hot spots” along the the coast and develop a bay protection and toxic cleanup program. The bills were backed by environmentalists who are alarmed at the declining quality of San Francisco and Santa Monica bays.

Deukmejian cited the cost of the legislation in his veto message, saying there was no money available.

Corey Brown, a lobbyist for the Planning and Conservation League, said: “The governor is on a rampage. He is vetoing even moderate environmental protection bills.”

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Deukmejian, continuing to work through a pile of bills sent to him by the Legislature before it adjourned Sept. 1, signed legislation that supporters say will reduce the number of windshields broken by flying rocks.

The bill, by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), requires that sand, rock and gravel trucks be covered and equipped to prevent spillage.

“Californians have been spending over $60 million every year to repair their windshields and paint because of damage caused by dangerous flying rocks and debris on the highways,” Katz said.


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