By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - The Senate Transportation chairman is pushing a plan to allow drivers of new cars to skip a test for pollutants by paying a fee.
The plan would allow cars 5 years old or newer to be exempted from pollution testing without forcing all Ohioans to pay the cost of the exemption, said Sen. Jeffry Armbruster, a North Ridgeville Republican, chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
As part of the state's transportation budget, the House this week proposed exempting more cars from the E-check tests, which are required in 14 counties in southwest and northeast Ohio. Current law exempts vehicles 2 years old or newer.
The House proposal would cost Ohio $29 million in penalties to contractors whose rates are set based on the number of vehicles on which E-checks are performed.
To cover that cost, the state would levy a 50-cent-per-day fee on the 80,000 rental cars in Ohio, under the House plan. The fees would cease in December 2005, when the E-check program ends.
Armbruster said all six Republicans on the GOP-controlled transportation committee are opposed to the fee.
Forcing people outside the E-check counties to pay for the exemption "doesn't make sense," Armbruster said Friday. "It's not fair and it's not good government."
Instead, Armbruster said the $29 million could be covered by collecting a fee from new-car drivers in E-check counties. Those drivers would benefit by the time they saved, he said.
Some Republicans - in the majority in the Senate - are also worried about the economic burden to industries that would have to reduce their emissions to make up for the added pollution, Senate President Doug White said Friday.
"It's a serious problem for a couple of my members who have come to me," White said. "They've said, `We better make sure we know what we're doing."'
The proposal would add about 15,000 tons of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere annually, a 6 percent increase, in the counties where the testing is required, according to 2000 statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The change would exempt almost 1.2 million cars from the test.
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