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Legislation seeks to end emissions tests for vehicles


January 12, 2005 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

More or possibly all Missourians may avoid vehicle emissions tests by Jan. 1.

The 2005 Missouri legislative session opened last week and Rep. Harold Selby, D-Cedar Hill, introduced legislation to scrap the testing program on or before 2006. Two similar proposals withered last year under the glaring eyes of environmental lobbyists, however.

Anticipating similar fate for the legislation this year, Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, told the Call he intends to introduce legislation exempting 5-year-old vehicles, rather rather than only 2-year-old models, and seniors older than 65 who drive vehicles with 5,000 miles or less. He also wants to rescind an exemption on one-ton gasoline automobiles and provide tests and inspections at the same place rather than two separate locations.

"The bill that I'm crafting will make the current program much more palatable and user friendly," said Lembke, who is chairman of the Interim House Committee on Vehicle Emissions. "It is my hope and my intention that in the not too distant future we can work with the EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) so that we don't have to have emissions testing at all."

To gut the program, he said, the EPA would require Missouri to create another avenue to promote air cleanliness.

"If we do away with this program most likely the burden would fall on the manufacturing industry and that's a concern," he said. "We certainly don't want to hinder job creation in the St. Louis area."

Selby is fine with industry assuming more responsibility for air quality.

"Three-fourths of pollution is coming from coal-fire power plants," he said. "That's what's going to be needed to be cleaned up."

Extended mass transportation such as a south county MetroLink expansion also could promote cleaner air, Selby said, taking pressure off the emissions testing program.

Selby said he would support Lembke's proposal if his fails again.

"I just hope this legislation educates other representatives about what we have to go through to get our licenses," he said. "They did not know that we (St. Louis area residents) are the only ones in the state that have to do this."

The Gateway Clean Air Program has been scrutinized since its inception in 2000. Citizens and lawmakers have lambasted the emissions tests as inconvenient, costly and ineffective. The limited number of stations make vehicle testing an all-day event, they argue, and the $24 fee for the tests is unnecessary. Plus, exemptions and pardons for heavy-freight vehicles and low-income drivers who can't afford repairs make the program a wash, opponents have said at committee hearings.

But supporters, including the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association, two large lobbyists in Jefferson City, worry eliminating the program could be a health risk, particularly for the elderly and children who are more susceptible to airborne illnesses.

Questions also arose last year about whether the state would lose roughly $40 million by breaking its contract, which expires after 2007, with the company that administers the test, ESP Missouri Inc. Based on the contract, however, payment to the company is subject to appropriation.

Selby and Lembke each introduced legislation last year to eliminate the program, but both proposals faded in committee amid such concerns. A House committee soon will review Selby's new legislation, House Bill 113.

Lembke hasn't introduced his proposal yet.

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