WASHINGTON-Gov. Pete Wilson of California signed a bill reforming the state's auto emissions inspection and maintenance program Jan. 27, despite warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency that the bill doesn't meet federal Clean Air Act requirements. Senate Bill 629 was denounced by the EPA because it will allow California's decentralized emissions testing program to continue. The federal agency wants all states to establish centralized I/M testing centers, because its studies show emissions reductions double when emissions testing and repair aren't performed at the same facility.
EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner has threatened California with the cutoff of about $800 million in annual federal highway funds unless it centralizes its I/M testing. However, some 9,000 independent auto repairers in the state oppose centralization, because they find I/M testing a useful competitive tool.
``We're at a standoff,'' an EPA spokeswoman said. ``We're still trying to convince them to get a better bill, and they're still trying to convince us their bill will do the trick.''
Ms. Browner sent a Jan. 24 letter to Gov. Wilson, saying that because of the recent Los Angeles earthquake she would cancel the spring deadline placed on California to agree to centralized testing.
Nevertheless, she urged Gov. Wilson to veto SB 629. ``EPA analysts estimate the SB 629 program would only achieve 50 percent of the Clean Air Act emission reduction requirements and that it could cost consumers as much as $50 per inspection,'' she said. ``This is clearly not in the best interests of the people of California.''
In a Jan. 27 letter to the California Senate, Gov. Wilson insisted SB 629 will meet or exceed the Clean Air Act mandate.
``(SB 629 will) ensure that we clean our air in a manner which will maximize convenience to California motorists and minimize economic disruption to our small businesses,'' he said.
``Further recent meetings with USEPA representatives indicate the potential for working out additional modifications to SB 629.''
More meetings were expected, the EPA spokeswoman said. ``But unless there's some sort of miracle breakthrough, we don't expect a lot of activity right now,'' she added.
``California officials know that they have a little extra time.''