Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Bill would abolish car tailpipe test

Move could cost millions in road funds

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — The tailpipe tests some Northern Kentuckians have come to loathe could be eliminated under a bill introduced to the state General Assembly by a Fort Thomas Republican.

        Yet doing away with the vehicle emission testing could bring federal sanctions to Northern Kentucky, meaning the region could be in jeopardy of losing millions of dollars for highway projects.

        That's a gamble the bill's sponsor, first-term legislator Joe Fischer, says the legislature — and ultimately the fiscal courts of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties — should take.

        “It's an ineffective program, and it's a mandate without any basis in law or fact,” Mr. Fischer said Monday.

        Northern Kentucky residents have complained about the emission testing program since it began in September.

        “It's the No. 1 complaint I hear from my constituents,” said Mr. Fischer, echoing other local legislators.

        Vehicles manufactured since 1968 must be checked every other year at one of the testing stations that opened in September in each of the three Northern Kentucky counties. The federal government ordered the state to implement the test to help clean Northern Kentucky's air.

        Mr. Fischer's bill would allow the county fiscal courts to opt out of the program by removing its major enforcement provision. Vehicle owners would no longer have to show proof of taking the test to be allowed to renew their license plates.

        “There are some constitutional questions here,” said Mr. Fischer, a lawyer who helped write successful legislation with other lawmakers before being elected to the General Assembly in 1998.

        “I'm not sure the state has the authority to require county clerks of only three fiscal courts to require proof of taking this test before someone can renew their license plate,” he said.

        Mr. Fischer said all of the lawmakers from Northern Kentucky are co-sponsoring the bill.

        Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, is expected to carry the bill in the Senate or possibly introduce a similar bill of his own should the legislation run into trouble in the House.

        “It's a good bill,” said Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Erlanger. “I believe in local control, and on this issue I agree with allowing the counties to opt out.”

        House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, also supports the bill.

        “If this is what the fiscal courts want, then they will certainly have the ability to curtail the tests,” Mr. Callahan said.

        But Mr. Callahan said eliminating the program could be costly, and he wants to warn state and county officials what might happen should the bill pass.

        More than $100 million in highway funds could be lost in Northern Kentucky if the federal government decides to impose sanctions for abandoning the tailpipe tests.

        Because of the threat of losing the highway money, state environmental officials have said they won't support the bill.

        The company administering the test would also expect compensation of millions of dollars for making a major financial investment then shutting the program down in less than an year, Mr. Callahan said.

        “The fiscal courts may want this bill,” Mr. Callahan said. “But there could be a high price attached to it.”

        Mr. Fischer said the fiscal courts will have to weigh the threat of losing highway money.

        But he expects a report from the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences due out in February to show that tailpipe tests fail when it comes to cleaning a region's air.

        “The study has determined and will show that tailpipe tests are ineffective by comparing regions that have the test and those that don't, and how there is no real difference in air quali ty,” Mr. Fischer said.

        “The (Environmental Protection Agency) has already solved the problem of automobile pollution with the requirement that new automobiles be equipped with anti-pollution devices.”

        Craig Brown of Mentor, a political activist who has lobbied lawmakers to eliminate the program, said EPA is holding the region hostage “with bad science.”

        “This program doesn't work; and besides, we're in an area that is in attainment when it comes to air quality standards,” Mr. Brown said. “It's a federal mandate that is unconstitutional, unneeded and unwanted by the people of Northern Kentucky.”


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