Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Senate Republicans Move Bills Misleading Public On Changes That Can Be Made To Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program Without A Change In Federal Law

On June 12, the Senate Transportation Committee approved and reported out a package of bills making significant changes to the state’s Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program that would directed DEP and PennDOT to take unlawful actions.
Republicans voted to support the bills, Democrats generally opposed.
The package of bills includes--
-- Senate Bill 742 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) exempting vehicles from emissions testing for 8 years after manufacturing;
-- Senate Bill 743 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) replace annual emission inspections with inspections every 2 years for vehicles more than 8 years old;
-- Senate Bill 744 (Langerholc-R-Bedford) exempt Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer, and Westmoreland Counties from the vehicle emissions testing [Committee made a technical amendment];
-- 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; and
-- 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 from November 1, 2019 to July 1, 2021 [This bill does not direct PennDOT to do an unlawful act.] (sponsor summary of package)
The bills are now on the Senate Calendar 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.
How Did We Get Here?
The reason the vehicle emissions inspection program was set up the way it was with different requirements in different parts of the state is simple.  
It was developed with the principle of-- do only what you absolutely needed to do in those areas of the state to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements.
No one wanted a one-size fits all approach.
The Casey Administration actually started to implement a one-size fits all vehicle emission inspection program run by special contractor-- Envirotest-- that was tasked with building stand-alone vehicle emission inspection stations across the state.
That approach, however, totally cut private service stations out of emissions inspections when they already had state safety inspection responsibilities.
The political storm around that approach resulted in the current, decentralized inspection program tailored to meet the air quality concerns by county across the state that today voluntarily involves over 8,000 service stations.
Private service stations wanted this business.
The vehicle emissions inspection program was adopted in the first place because a federal court, enforcing the federal Clean Air Act, ordered the state to run a program.  The state could pick what type of program to run, as long as it met the requirements of federal law. The Casey Administration picked a centralized, one-size fits all approach.
But the General Assembly weighed in at the end of 1994 passing House Bill 1914 that became law directing PennDOT to develop a decentralized vehicle emissions involving private service stations.
The law also directed the Governor to take steps to remove the state from the Northeast Ozone Transport Commission that are in attainment of the federal ozone standard and required to adopt a vehicle emission inspection program. Ultimately, no areas were removed because they couldn’t be.
The present inspection program was also put together as part of an overall package of air pollution controls discussed and developed as part of formal, facilitated regional air quality stakeholder processes set up by the Ridge Administration shortly after they took office in 1995.
The formal stakeholder process was needed because of the huge controversy, not only over vehicle emissions inspection, but over how to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements generally during the last 2 years or so of the Casey Administration.
All points of view were represented on the stakeholder groups-- stationary sources (businesses, manufacturing, power plants, petroleum companies), mobile sources (vehicle owners, service station dealers), the public, local governments and environmental groups.
All the participants recognized it was a zero sum problem-- emissions reductions had to come from somewhere-- mobile or stationary sources, but the goal was the same-- meeting federal Clean Air Act standards.
The stakeholder groups were supported by special air quality model runs and information provided by DEP and EPA so they could evaluate options and make decisions based on real data.
They came up with a comprehensive package of emission controls that affected stationary and mobile sources that were adopted by DEP in the form of State Air Quality Implementation Plan revisions.
What Next?
There is no question programs need to be reviewed and evaluated, but it needs to happen based on real facts and data and within the law and our obligations.
The stakeholder groups worked originally because everyone had a clear understanding of what the goal was, they agreed on the data used to evaluate options and they clearly understood the federal obligations Pennsylvania had to meet.
Micromanaging a complex program without the benefit of facts and data is always a dangerous undertaking.
Micromanaging in a way that violates federal law and that you were warned it would upfront several times, will only result in Pennsylvania being taken to federal court again and having the court enforce the federal Clean Air Act on Pennsylvania-- again.
Perhaps that’s what some would want, but haven’t we seen this movie before?
Click Here for an early history of the vehicle emissions inspection Program.  Click Here for additional information on the 2003 federal lawsuit settlement.
For more information on the program, visit the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program website.
Sen. Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-6063 or send email to:  Sen. John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-9608 or send email to:
(Photo: Senators Ward, Langerholc, Stephano, Vogel.)
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