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Dissent is far-flung for emissions plan

A number of groups from around the country say the state should not be allowed to end vehicle testing.

By CRAIG PITTMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2000


More than two dozen groups from as far away as Alaska have written the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protest ending vehicle emissions testing in Florida.

Eliminating the tailpipe tests would lead to an increase in toxic air pollutants "exacerbating public health problems, particularly in urban areas," the groups contended in a letter to the EPA last week.

Meanwhile, committees in both houses of the state Legislature have voted to eliminate the tailpipe tests statewide, including the Tampa Bay area.

The House Finance and Taxation Committee passed the measure Tuesday, despite concerns that the EPA may punish the state by blocking millions of dollars in federal highway funds from the Tampa Bay area, snarling traffic and stifling growth.

The $10-a-year emissions test is required for motorists in six Florida counties that flunked federal air-quality standards in the late 1980s: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval.

Those tests are part of an EPA-approved plan for cleaning up the state's air. Emissions from poorly maintained vehicles account for up to half of the smog-causing pollution in urban areas.

Florida's tests check to see if cars put out excessive amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. The state has never tested for nitrogen oxide, a precursor to ozone, which in recent years has become the state's worst air pollution problem.

Last year, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed ending the vehicle tests in four counties where the air has improved: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval.

Only Pinellas and Hillsborough motorists would still line up for testing because the Tampa Bay area continues to struggle with high levels of ozone, which causes respiratory problems for children and the elderly and harms plant and marine life.

The EPA staff sees no problem allowing the state to end testing in those four counties, but last week groups ranging from the Alaska Center for the Environment to Mothers for Clean Air in Houston, Texas, disagreed.

In their letter to the EPA those groups and a number of others -- most prominent among them the American Lung Association -- warned that dropping the emissions tests "is shortsighted from both a policy and public health perspective."

The letter from the Clean Air Trust, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and other groups contends that ending the tests would allow poorly tuned vehicles to again spew benzene and other toxic pollutants into the air.

Giving the EPA's blessing to ending the tests also would set a poor precedent for other states in dealing with their air pollution problems, they wrote.

The EPA is taking public comment on ending the tests until May 17.

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