Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Senate Republicans Pass Bills Misleading Public On Changes To Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program When Changes In Federal Law Needed

On June 25, the Senate passed a 5-bill package making changes to the state’s vehicle emissions inspection program, but the changes do not avoid the need to amend federal law to make the proposed changes.  
Without changes in federal law, the bills direct PennDOT and DEP to take unlawful actions.
The bills were passed with Republicans generally supporting and Democrats generally opposed.
The bills include--
-- Senate Bill 742 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) exempting vehicles from emissions testing for 8 years after manufacturing [vote 26-24];
-- Senate Bill 743 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) replace annual emission inspections with inspections every 2 years for vehicles more than 8 years old [vote 27-12];
-- Senate Bill 744 (Langerholc- R-Bedford) exempt Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer, and Westmoreland Counties from the vehicle emissions testing [27-23]; and
-- Senate Bill 745 (Stefano-R-Fayette) replace the tailpipe test in Pittsburgh and the 2-speed idle test via a dynamometer/treadmill in the Philadelphia region with a gas cap test and a visual inspection for model year 1994-95 vehicles [vote 27-23].
-- Senate Bill 746 (Vogel-R-Beaver) extend the transition date for existing emissions inspection stations that are required by the Department of Transportation to obtain new emissions testing equipment by November 1, 2019 to July 1, 202. [This bill does not direct PennDOT to do an unlawful act.] [vote 33-17]
The bills now go to the House for action.
What They’re Telling The Public
The Senators are telling the public the existing program is an unnecessary burden on vehicle owners because areas of the state already meet federal Clean Air Act standards, that federal law allows the state to withdraw areas from the vehicle emissions inspection program and that the changes can be made without harming air quality.
What they aren’t telling the public is federal law prohibits withdrawing from the vehicle emission inspection program, if you read the entire federal law.
Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection have told the Senators it was not legally possible to withdraw from the program, if you read the entire federal law.
The report, based on a special task force convened by the Commission at the direction of Senate Resolution 168 (Langerholc-R-Bedford) that included representatives of service state owners, the AAA representing vehicle owners, DEP, environmental and public health groups, concluded--
“The overwhelming consensus of the advisory committee was that revisions to the SIP [State Air Quality Implementation Plan] suggested by Senate Resolution 168 that would remove certain counties from the vehicle emissions testing program are not authorized under the CAA [federal Clean Air Act] [emphasis added].
“The driving factor in this conclusion is the fact that Congress included Pennsylvania in the Northeast Ozone Transport Region (OTR) under the CAA, and the CAA imposes expanded geographical coverage for vehicle inspection and maintenance programs in OTR states.
“Additionally, a majority of the advisory committee was also of the opinion that removing any counties from the SIP was inadvisable for adverse public health and environmental reasons [emphasis added].”
Not getting the answer they wanted, the Senators asked the Joint Commission to look again, and harder.  This time the Commission did not ask the task force for advice.
In response to Senators’ request, the Commission produced a January 2019 supplemental memorandum that concluded Pennsylvania could submit a State Air Quality Implementation Plan revision to EPA exempting certain counties and that doing so would have only “minimal/negligible” impacts on air quality.
What they did not say, and what the Commission and the Senators were told in writing by DEP and again at a May 10 roundtable discussion held by the Senate Transportation Committee in public, was EPA would not approve such a change because it is not authorized to do so under federal law.
Specifically, DEP’s written testimony to the Committee roundtable said, “In the Supplemental Memorandum, the Commission identifies seven counties that it believes have the greatest combination of favorable factors to indicate that their removal could be accomplished with minimal need for compensation with other emission controls. DEP does not believe that counties can be lawfully removed from the I/M Program or that other measures can replace an I/M program.”
DEP added in its written testimony--
“Pennsylvania could face sanctions under the Clean Air Act for not implementing enhanced I/M program requirements if the General Assembly were to enact legislation directing PennDOT or DEP to remove areas from the I/M Program and submit a SIP revision to EPA for approval. DEP believes that:
-- “The General Assembly would be ordering the agencies to perform an unlawful act under
federal law.
--  “EPA would very likely disapprove the SIP revision seeking to remove the counties.
-- “Pennsylvania could be sanctioned for failing to implement its approved SIP. At the end of the day, if our rules don’t meet federal standards, Pennsylvania would be subject to sanctions that would affect a portion of our federal highway funding – which in Pennsylvania would amount to approximately $420 million per year.
-- “Another sanction that could be imposed would affect new major stationary sources.
These sources would need to purchase twice the emission reduction credits needed today to obtain a permit. This would be a job killing-business unfriendly sanction.
--  “Along with enduring sanctions, Pennsylvania would need to comply with the federal
I/M laws, anyway.”
In addition, neither the Commission nor the Senators wanted to hear what EPA had to say directly either.
At the May Transportation Committee roundtable it was pointed out that EPA was more than willing to be part of the task force convened by the Joint Commission and to attend the roundtable, but they were not invited to participate.
The Joint Commission also admitted at the Committee roundtable they did no actual analysis of the air quality impacts of removing the counties before making the judgment in writing that removing counties would have "minimal/negligible impact on the environment.”
They also said the same thing in their conclusion statement in the January memorandum-- “In order to “prove” that contention, DEP would need to use the EPA’s modeling program to demonstrate the projected impact of these removals.”
The original Joint Commission report said the same thing, “If modeling would show a negative impact on pollution control standards, improving emissions controls on other mobile sources and improving stationary source controls could help offset and change the ability of the subject counties to maintain standards.”
On the issue of why continue the vehicle emission inspection program if Pennsylvania is largely already meeting federal Clean Air Act standards and when there is only a 3.7 percent or so vehicle test failure rate, the answer is pretty simple.
DEP addressed that point in its May roundtable written testimony--
“...A vehicle with a malfunctioning emission control component can emit many times more pollution than a properly functioning vehicle. We all saw in the Volkswagen cheating scandal that when a vehicle’s emission controls are not operating as intended that emissions can be many times higher than what emissions should be, up to 40 times higher – or more - in the Volkswagen case. The potential exists for three percent of vehicles failing an I/M test to emit as much pollution as the other 98 percent of nonfailing vehicles.”
In addition, the same “why are we still doing this” comment could be said of stopping regulations limiting emissions of power plants, zinc furnaces, steel plants or coal coking plants?
But, of course, we wouldn't do that, would we?   
The reason Pennsylvania is meeting and hopefully will continue to meet air quality standards is precisely because of the programs in place to control emissions.
Yes, cars are better and older, more polluting vehicles are leaving the vehicle fleet, but that does not mean things don’t go wrong.  The inspections prove that.
If we knew which cars would fail, that would be great.  But you need an inspection program to do that and as DEP said, when things go wrong, they go badly wrong in terms of emissions..
The Joint Commission’s original report showed air pollution emissions from light duty vehicles are still a significant source of air pollution in the counties that are proposed to be exempt. The report said--
“Overall, the amount of mobile emissions per subject county that are attributable to light duty vehicles ranges from 42.59 percent in Westmoreland County to 55.89 in Blair County.
“Within the category of mobile emissions, the amount of each criteria pollutant varies. Light duty vehicles in most of the counties reviewed were only responsible for 15-20 percent of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) from mobile sources and approximately one-third of nitrogen oxides.
“Sulfur dioxide tends to be the largest portion of mobile source emissions from subject vehicles, hovering in the 60-75 percent range.
“Carbon monoxide from subject vehicles accounts for 50-60 percent of all mobile emissions in the subject counties, while five counties were in the high 40s.
“VOCs had a wider range, with about half of the counties hovering in the 50 percent to low 60 percent group, seven counties had contributions in the low 40 percent range, and three were in the low 60 percent range.”
The bottom line-- you don’t stop programs that got you clean air-- especially since mobile sources continue to be such a significant part of our air pollution problem.
(Photo: Senators Ward, Langerholc, Stephano, Vogel.)
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