An inconvenient, costly and sometimes controversial practice may soon come to an end for Franklin County residents.
On Thursday, the Missouri Air Conservation Commission approved the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommendations to remove Franklin and Jefferson counties from the St. Louis area’s vehicle emissions inspection program.
Under the plan, St. Louis city plus St. Louis and St. Charles counties would remain in the Gateway Vehicle Inspection Program for now.
The state says the four counties and St. Louis are in compliance with the EPA’s 2008 ozone standards, and that Jefferson and Franklin counties — excluding Boles Township in eastern Franklin County — meet more-stringent 2015 standards.
Emily Wilbur, an air quality section chief with the air pollution control program, confirmed the commission’s midday vote and explained what steps need to be taken next.
“According to the Clean Air Act, the plan will now be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Wilbur said. “The EPA will then have 18 months to make a decision to accept or reject the DNR plan. They have to do something within that time frame.”
Missouri Senate president pro tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, says he is hopeful the EPA will accept the plan voted on Thursday.
“I’ve spoken to the DNR several times and told them we would be bringing legislation to this effect if they didn’t do something,” Schatz said. “I’ve had so may constituents who have had issues with the program contact me. It’s ridiculous. This is a step in the right direction.”
Schatz explained in recent years, the state of Missouri has been beholden to the EPA to meet the air quality standards that are tied to receiving federal transportation funding.
“I was tired of being threatened and getting to the point I didn’t care,” Schatz said. “They were holding us hostage.”
Although his overall view is positive, Schatz admits there may be a few drawbacks to Franklin County being exempt from the emissions testing.
“A few of our neighboring counties may not be happy they are still included,” Schatz said. “Some of the places doing inspections and testing may see a little loss of business or may be upset if they have spent money on special equipment they will no longer need.”
He added some environmental groups may also have objections to the emissions testing being eliminated.
Vice Chairman of the Missouri House Transportation Committee State Rep. Nate Tate, R-St. Clair, says this decision should make a lot of people happy and it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s a racket in my opinion,” Tate said. “One of the first meetings I had when I came into the House in 2017 was with DNR about getting Franklin County out of the emissions testing.”
Because of high ozone levels, the St. Louis region is the only area in Missouri where emissions testing is required.
Automobiles are the largest source of the chemicals that form ozone, but factories, utilities, the petroleum industry and industrial solvents also contribute.
“Kansas City doesn’t even have to do it,” Tate said. “It’s just around St. Louis and it seems like a big scam or money grab.”
Tate added if a vehicle doesn’t pass and the owner is forced to spend money to make repairs, even if it doesn’t pass a second time, there are no consequences, but the owners are still out of pocket without the perceived problem being solved.
“To my knowledge, once an owner spends a certain amount of money toward getting it fixed, they just pass it anyway,” Tate said. “Nobody really understands it.”
He added another reason testing should be scrapped is that newer cars are built to more stringent federal emissions standards and there are less older vehicles on the roads.
“I drive a brand new car and I have to pay to get its emissions checked?” Tate asked. “As more and more older cars are cycled out the newer ones meet more standards. There can’t be that many older cars left.”
Former state senator and county presiding commissioner John Griesheimer, R-Washington, sponsored multiple pieces of legislation in Jefferson City dealing with the vehicle emissions testing in efforts to make it easier for Franklin County residents.
Griesheimer told The Missourian the exemption of Franklin County from testing is great news for residents.
Griesheimer added he feels local garages will be happy to see Franklin County exempted from the emissions testing because the businesses actually lose money on the testing.
“A small stipend of the emissions fee goes back to the state, but the shops lose money,” Griesheimer said. “They may get more business in the long run making repairs, but that is monitored pretty closely too.”
Griesheimer first sponsored legislation in 2003 that allowed emissions testing to be done every two years at the same time safety inspections were conducted for license renewals.
“We had two testing stations in Franklin County,” Griesheimer said. “One was in Union and the other was in St. Clair, so residents had to drive a long way.”
Then in 2007, Griesheimer pushed a bill that was later signed by then Gov. Matt Blunt to allow the emissions testing to be done in local garages, making the process more convenient.