A provision that would eliminate emissions inspection requirements in Franklin County and two other area counties has passed the state Senate but could still face an uphill battle.
Senate Bill 40, which would end emissions testing requirements in Franklin, St. Charles and Jefferson counties, passed the Senate April 8 on a 23-10 vote. It has moved on to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the Emerging Issues Committee Wednesday, April 14.
The threat of the loss of federal funding could endanger the proposal, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said.
“That’s always a concern, is that if we are non-compliant, the feds will withhold funds, or they will come in and take over the implementation of this process,” said Schatz, the Senate’s president pro tem. ”It had a fiscal note of like $52 million of fed funds potentially at risk. I’m pretty confident we are not willing to risk $52 million in transportation funding.”
The part about emissions inspections could be removed from the final bill, which includes other provisions related to the Department of Natural Resources. “I would be afraid the governor, if it was in there, he’d be more likely to veto it if there is that much highway funding in jeopardy over removing this from the emissions program,” Schatz said.
Aside from the potential loss of federal money, the bill would mean a loss of $940,630 to the Department of Natural Resources, including $134,544 from Franklin County, in both fiscal years 2023 and 2024, according to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis that is part of the bill.
The analysis said small businesses that have to pay the fees could see a positive impact, but small businesses with inspection stations could lose money, according to the Committee on Legislative Research Oversight Division.
The state could face sanctions within 18 months from the federal Environmental Protection Agency if it fully or partly removes its emissions inspection program.
And even if the state doesn’t enforce the EPA’s vehicle inspection rules, the EPA could take up enforcement itself, according to the analysis.
Franklin County has less pollution caused by motor vehicles and has been meeting clean air standards and should not be on the list of counties required to have emissions inspections, Schatz said.
“In the air quality monitors that provide the data for this Clean Air Act, St. Louis County and St. Charles County have not met the standards that have been set by the federal government,” Schatz said. “But Franklin County and Jefferson County, we have met attainment, and that’s why we’ve asked to be removed from the requirements that test vehicle emissions. I doubt very seriously that vehicle emissions is ultimately what leads to the air quality problems that we face.”
Emissions inspections also are a “burdensome process” for residents, Schatz said. “Newer vehicles burn cleaner, so therefore we don’t need the testing, or we could reduce it to a certain age vehicle,” he said. “But rank-and-file newer vehicles I don’t believe need to be tested.”
Matt Riechers, of Riechers Tire and Auto in Washington, sees positives and negatives in the possibility of emissions inspections no longer being necessary in the county. Although he doesn’t expect the emissions testing to have a major impact on business, the inspections can be beneficial in finding other problems with a car.
“You could have an emissions item that is not going to affect the drivability of the vehicle, but if that ‘check engine’ light’s on, and the customer is not forced to fix it, there could be other, bigger issues that he won’t be able to recognize,” he said.
But Riechers questions the overall effectiveness of the testing program.
“All in all, I’m not a huge fan of the emissions test,” he said. “It’s a great concept, with pollution and everything, but if it’s something that’s going to be done, it needs to be mandated by the federal government, not just states here and there. It does seem to be a bit of a money grab, but it does also serve a good purpose, so I’m torn a little bit.”
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday, April 20.