E-Check repeal move doomed?

By Dan Trevas Record-Courier Capital Bureau Published:

The signing of tougher new air pollution standards for smog and soot by

President Clinton this week has Ohio lawmakers at work deciding how the

state will comply with the new regulations. Gov. George Voinovich's administration

said the new standards mean E-Check will continue to be a part of the air

pollution reduction strategy for 14 counties, including Portage County,

and may have to be expanded to other counties to stay in compliance.

``It is impossible to get rid of the E-Check under the new rules,'' said

Mike Dawson, Voinovich's spokesman.

Not true, says state Rep. Tom Johnson, sponsor of a bill to scrap the E-Check

program and replace it with a less stringent auto tailpipe inspection along

with other control methods to meet the air quality standards.

Johnson, R-New Concord, said the timing is right to scrap the current air

pollution reduction plans and replace them with new strategies that do not

rely on the E-Check, which places vehicles on rollers and tests their emissions

as the cars are accelerated to highway driving speeds.

The federal government is giving the states until 2004 to meet the new requirements.

``In my opinion, its going to take years and years for the new requirements

to be implemented. That is why we need to pass the E-Check bill now,'' he

said.

Johnson's House Bill 172 is in a joint House-Senate conference committee

that will hash out the differences in versions of his bill passed by the

House and Senate.

Johnson objected to the Senate version because it gives the Ohio EPA too

much authority authorize emission testing in counties other than the 14

counties that currently must conduct the program.

Currently 14 counties in the Cleveland-Akron, Cincinnati and Dayton areas

are subject to E-Check. The bill will allow the Dayton and Cleveland area

counties to drop the program and authorize the state to negotiate a contract

with Envirotest, the company doing the E-Check tests, to conduct the basic

tailpipe test.

Cincinnati must remain in the E-Check program because it is not in attainment

with current federal Clean Air Act levels of polluting emissions. Once the

Cincinnati region comes into attainment, it can abandon E-Check, under the

bill's provisions.

Councils of local officials will recommend what other control programs the

region would implement to reduce pollution, including the use of reformulated

gas.

Johnson's position is getting a boost from an Ohio environmental organization

that has been highly critical of the state's smog reduction plan.

The Campaign for an Energy Efficient Ohio will be releasing Monday an extensive

study of the smog pollution created by older power plants and calls for

tougher regulation of the plants.

Lisa Hong, manager of the campaign, said automakers have dramatically reduced

the amount of nitrogen oxide, a chief smog-creating pollutant, emitted by

cars. She said vehicles have cut emissions by more than 90 percent over

the last 20 years while older power plants have been virtually unregulated

by smog-control laws.

Hong said Ohio has several of the older power generating plants that did

not have to meet tough federal clean air standards. She said the group's

report will show that power plant emit 47 percent of the nitrogen oxide

while cars release 38 percent.

She said the state could get rid of the E-Check because the automotive industry

is addressing the problem. ``It's a good time to restructure our clean air

strategies,'' she said.

Congress still must approve the new regulations and several members of the

Ohio delegation are working on a plan to delay the implementation of the

rules. Among the leaders of the effort are Rep. Robert Ney, R-St. Clairsville

and Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Navarre.

Voinovich has opposed the regulations saying they will cost jobs and increase

electric bills by at least 7 percent.

Dawson said the governor is backing the congressional efforts to delay the

new standards.

``There is strong bipartisan support to do just that,'' he said. Although

he is playing a pivotal role in overhauling the state's education funding

system, Johnson said he is ready to devote some time to axing E-Check. He

is calling a conference committee meeting on the E-Check bill for July 24.

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