Friday, February 09, 2001

End to tailpipe test may be costly

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Northern Kentucky's leading business group is concerned the region will lose millions of dollars in federal highway money if the General Assembly eliminates mandatory vehicle tailpipe testing.

        Legislation pending in the Kentucky Senate would eliminate the program in Northern Kentucky and Jefferson County, the only two areas of the state where the government has mandated the tests.

        That has the 1,900-member Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce concerned about what the potential loss of highway revenue would mean for business and economic development in the region.

    There are two main bills dealing with vehicle tailpipe testing:
    • Senate Bill 48, whose co-sponsors include three Northern Kentucky Republican senators — Katie Stine of Fort Thomas, Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park and Jack Westwood of Erlanger. The bill would eliminate the $20 tests. Vehicles built after 1968 now must be tested every other year.
    • House Bill 27, sponsored by Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, and Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence. It would exempt cars 4 years old or less. This bill may be compromised to exempt cars 1 to 2 years old.
        The EPA has warned that if the tests are halted, the federal government would not allocate millions of dollars. No figure has ever been cited, but some lawmakers have said the amount withheld could total more than $50 million over several years.

        “We're not opposed at this moment, but we're worried about it,” Steve Stevens, the top lobbyist, said Thursday. “But if we find out for sure that this will cause us to lose funds ... that would be a major problem.”

        The federal Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the tests - which began last year - because in the past Northern Kentucky has not met air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.

        Every vehicle registered in Northern Kentucky and built after 1968 must go through the tests, which cost $20, every other year. If a vehicle fails, it must be repaired and then retested before its license plates can be renewed.

        Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, one of three Northern Kentucky lawmakers co-sponsoring the bill, said she does not think that the federal government will deprive the region of money for highway construction and repair.

        She said while similar threats have been made in other parts of the country, the government rarely follows through with actually withholding highway dollars.

        “I'm willing to take the challenge,” Mrs. Stine said Thursday. “As far as the threats, probably "idle' is too flip, but I would say "unlikely.'”

        Mrs. Stine said she is optimistic the bill will pass out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee next week and then be approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

        That would put the pressure on the House, where the Democrats hold the majority, to eliminate a program despised by the public — but jeopardize millions in federal highway funding.

        There might be a compromise in the works, however, dealing with another bill filed by two Northern Kentucky House mem bers.

        Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, and Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence, have sponsored a bill that would exempt cars that are 1 and possibly 2 years old from having to go through the tests.

        While officials in the Department of Environmental Protection oppose eliminating the tests, they have expressed a willingness to possibly compromise on exempting late-model cars, Mr. Marcotte has said.

        Data from the state indicates that last year, no year-old cars failed the test and only one 2-year-old vehicle failed.

        The bill is likely to be heard next week in committee.

        Mr. Stevens said the chamber is more open to the bill sponsored by Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Walton.

        “I think the bill is reasonable,” Mr. Stevens said. “And it does make sense. If this is an ineffective test, I think it has a much better chance of being accepted” by the federal government.


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