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  Legislative Feature

Congress Focuses on Clean Air Reforms

Posted 5/10/2004
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.

A host of clean air legislation before Congress requires repairers to not lose sight of policies at the federal level while staying active in state emissions programs.

Despite the limited number of legislative work days left for this Congress, and a probable 2005 review of the Clean Air Act by the U.S. House Commerce Committee, Congressional representatives have multiple initiatives in play for 2004 concerning issues pertinent to the automotive repair industry.

With federal highway legislation and numerous hearings presenting opportunities for clean air debate, automotive repairers must be cognizant of how this will impact their state air quality programs and the national clean air discussion.

Lined up in recent federal highway legislation before Congress is a host of clean air-related amendments. Federal highway packages are multiyear initiatives this year costing $318 billion in the U.S. Senate bill and $275 billion in House legislation. The legislation has been historically accused of containing projects not essential to our national transportation system. But clean air's tie to highway funding has a long history and certainly presents an opportunity for clean air reforms to appear.

During the House debate of the highway bill, an amendment was approved allowing low-emission vehicles to use high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes intended to reduce traffic. Also approved was language allowing states and local areas the option of not charging an HOV toll for drivers of low-emission vehicles. The House rejected the following:

  • An amendment to increase the use of technology to reduce truck engine idling time.
  • An amendment requiring states to use all of their federal congestion and air quality funding that Congress has appropriated.
  • An amendment was withdrawn - due to lack of support - that preserves current law by allowing congestion mitigation and air quality program funding to go to areas in noncompliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) particulate matter standards.

Critically important for independent repairers, according to Inside EPA, was a commitment from a bipartisan group of representatives to develop legislation preserving current federal transportation congestion and air quality funding for areas that do not meet EPA particulate matter standards. This will relieve a great deal of pressure on states and localities to meet tough clean air standards, some of these through their emissions testing programs.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Air Quality Standards has also been busy. Chairman George Voinovich, R-Ohio, conducted a hearing that reviewed the implementation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter and ozone. The Clean Air Act required the EPA to establish the air quality standards with which states are responsible for compliance. Voinovich described the standards as "set without consideration of costs to protect public health and welfare with an adequate margin of safety. Areas not meeting the standards are designated as nonattainment and are required to implement specified air pollution control measures."

Voinovich, former governor of Ohio, noted: "As part of bringing the state into compliance with the NAAQS, we chose to implement an automobile emissions testing program - called E-check - because it made the most sense from a cost-benefit standpoint. This program was not popular, and Ohio's General Assembly passed a bill to remove the program. I vetoed this bill because I understood the importance of programs such as this to meet the air quality standards."

Voinovich continued, "Due to the success of these efforts, air toxins in Ohio have been reduced significantly - from approximately 381 million pounds in 1987 to 144 million pounds in 1996. Since the 1970s, Ohio's levels of carbon monoxide have been reduced by more than 70 percent, sulfur dioxide by 90 percent, lead by 95 percent, and ozone by 27 percent."

Critical to the timing of the Senate hearing was testimony from the EPA's new administrator, Michael Leavitt. Leavitt is required under a consent decree to report by April 15 to certain localities that they do not meet federal ozone standards. As a result of last year's appropriations language, the EPA is expected to report to those localities failing to meet federal fine particle standards.

Leavitt testified:

"That is why the agency is moving forward with both the Interstate Air Quality Rule that we proposed last December and the proposed nonroad rule for construction, agricultural and industrial diesel equipment. Those two programs, as proposed, combined with other existing programs - including the Tier2/gasoline sulfur standards for cars and light trucks, the NOx SIP Call Rule to reduce interstate ozone transport, and the Clean Diesel Program for new trucks and buses - would bring well over half of the counties now monitoring nonattainment into attainment with the fine particle and ozone standards between now and 2015."

As Leavitt pointed out, the legal issues relative to these standards are settled for the EPA, and it must now implement these standards. As OBD II testing programs continue to increase and mature, independent repairers have focused on their specific, evolving state programs. It is important that repairers do not lose sight of policy changes relative to state air quality programs that continue to occur at the federal level.

The EPA is in the process of designating areas relative to fine particle attainment status.

Independent repairers should be involved in the establishment of any new state programs. The Automotive Service Association places a high priority on ensuring state emissions programs are viable and effective for the motoring public and the repair community.

Bob Redding Bob Redding is the Automotive Service Association's Washington, D.C., representative. He is a member of several federal and state advisory committees involved in the automotive industry.

For more information about the legislative activities of ASA, visit www.TakingTheHill.com.

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