By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The proposal to exempt newer cars from Ohio's E-Check emissions testing program wouldn't add much air pollution, state environmental officials said Thursday, but it would force the state to cut emissions from other sources.
The Ohio House of Representatives inserted an exemption for vehicles younger than 5 years before passing the $4.7 billion transportation budget Wednesday.
That bill also included Gov. Bob Taft's proposed gasoline tax increase, which would add 2 cents a year in the next three years to the current 22 cents a gallon.
According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the exemption would add 15,600 tons of hydrocarbons to the air in the 14 counties where E-Check is in force. All vehicles in Hamilton, Warren, Butler and Clermont counties have to be tested under the program, which is also in place in the Dayton, Cleveland, Springfield and Akron areas.
Over a two-year testing cycle, the exemption would apply to almost 1.2 million vehicles.
But agency spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said the amount of hydrocarbons that would be added is only 1.6 percent of the total emissions the state is taking out of the air with E-Check.
Ohio removes about 956,000 tons of hydrocarbons from the environment with the program, Griesmer said. Hydrocarbons are an ingredient in ozone, an odorless gas that irritates lungs.
Still, the agency will have to find ways to reduce that 15,300 tons from other sources and will have to revise its air quality compliance plan on file with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That could mean tighter controls on industry or coal-burning power plants, or the required sale of cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline in the summer, as is already the case in Northern Kentucky.
One local environmentalist said that if current regulations involving new cars and the gas industry stay in place, the proposed exemption would not make air pollution any worse.
"All new cars have to be made to handle low-sulfur gas now, and we are on track to get that gas in this area in 2004 and have it mandatory by 2007," said Ned Ford of Hyde Park, energy chairman for the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. "So this won't have any impact at all if those things stay in place."
But other environmentalists were concerned about the potential impact.
"In five years, you can put a lot of miles on a car and unless it's well-maintained, I'd hate to see what's coming out of that tail pipe," Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council, said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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