Talk of less emissions testing is in the air
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One of those nagging, unnecessary annoyances of modern life may be eliminated soon. You might file this one under: There Ought Not Be A Law.
New cars would be exempt from emission inspections for 10 years, if a bill that cleared the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee on Monday keeps moving forward. More than 20 senators from both sides of the aisle are sponsoring Senate Bill 1532, which also would exempt hybrid, electric and compressed natural gas cars from inspections.
The state isn't getting soft on smog. It's just catching up with new technology.
"When emissions tests were enacted, there were still a lot of old, polluting cars on the road," Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, said. "Today, nearly all cars pass the emissions test and drivers have to pay up to $50 to be told what they already know."
It's not as if Pennsylvania would be breaking new ground. Neighboring states -- with air that sometimes blows thisaway -- already have properly relaxed their requirements. Ohio, which calls for inspections only in the seven-county Cleveland metropolitan area, exempts vehicles up to 4 years old. Maryland requires an inspection in most of its counties every two years, but exempts the two most recent model years.
Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., the same Beaver County Republican whose "pie bill'' made it OK for church ladies to home-bake cakes for church sales a couple of years ago, is behind this emissions legislation. The Legislature will have to take care of budget matters first, but Mr. Vogel thinks this can be tackled in September or October.
This won't be entirely Pennsylvania's call. It needs U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval of its plans, but EPA waivers in other states show some flexibility.
One Harrisburg insider told me he thought the EPA might ask Pennsylvania to make some improvements in air quality elsewhere, perhaps regarding coal-fired power plants, but that the agency is unlikely to simply say no to curbing emissions tests.
Pennsylvania first required enhanced vehicle emissions testing in a handful of heavily populated counties in 1997. That came after years of political posturing, backsliding and money wasting.
The state first authorized centralized auto emissions testing only to back out after a populist revolt. It was forced to pay about $150 million over three years to the company that was poised to administer it and, for all that cabbage, we got zilch -- and our cars still needed inspections.
The keys to this treasure chest were handed to private garages, and over the years the mandate spread to cars registered in 25 of the state's 67 counties. The Western Pennsylvania counties are Allegheny, Beaver, Cambria, Erie, Washington and Westmoreland.
Yet, at this point, there's little sense the tests count for much, other than to your wallet.
Visual, under-the-hood inspections would continue under this legislation, so any tampering with manufacturers' emissions controls would be discovered. Even with such transgressions, PennDOT reports that about 96 percent of the 5.7 million vehicles passed the emissions test last year. With the cost of each test in the Pittsburgh metro area averaging around $37, and being closer to $45 in and around Philadelphia, the bill's proponents figure eliminating this redundancy would save consumers $25 million to $30 million by exempting more than half the state's cars.
Such savings could hardly come at a better time. The state's bridges are crumbling and its transit systems are, too. Pennsylvania might increase car registration fees to raise transportation funds, and that proposal would be a little easier to take if the Legislature found a way to give motorists some of that money back.
Apart from the fact that today's cleaner-burning vehicles are slam dunks to pass the emissions test, the checkerboard nature of the emissions mandate gives one pause. In Mr. Vogel's district, Ellwood City straddles Beaver and Lawrence counties, so some vehicles parked in the same neighborhood are subject to the emissions test while others aren't.
He's the same senator who successfully pushed through a little wisdom after a state inspector told the parishioners of St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church in Rochester that they couldn't sell homemade pies at a Lenten fish fry. That was 2009. The following year, Sen. Vogel's legislation ensured that no Pennsylvania church would thereafter be cited on a homemade pie rap.
Sometimes all a commonwealth needs is common sense.
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am