WASHINGTON-Virginia members of the U.S. Congress are trying to intercede for the state government in its ongoing battle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over vehicle emissions inspection standards. The EPA has rejected two successive inspection/maintenance (I/M) proposals from the Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because neither required centralized emissions testing, favored by the EPA. At stake are as much as $400 million in federal highway funds and new or ongoing transportation projects for Northern Virginia. The EPA has the power to withhold both under the Clean Air Act.
Virginia legislators are concerned over the EPA's apparent intransigence on the I/M issue, said Kristen King, a legislative assistant to Rep. James Moran, a Democrat representing the city of Alexandria.
``The EPA is being very strict in interpreting its own regulations-from an outsider's reading, much more so than Congress intended,'' Ms. King said. A presidential order in effect since the Bush administration requires the agency to consider the lowest-cost methods of complying with environmental laws; EPA rules on I/M, however, contain nothing on that issue, according to Ms. King.
Virginia congressmen and the EPA now are waiting for a third I/M proposal from the Virginia DNR as the basis for further negotiation.
The EPA issued enhanced I/M regulations for more than 180 areas nationwide-including a six-county area of Northern Virginia-as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Although the EPA does not specifically require centralized emissions testing for those areas, it strongly encourages it because of agency studies demonstrating greater emissions reductions in areas with centralized testing.
The Virginia state legislature, however, refused to approve a bill mandating centralized testing earlier this year because of concern over independent auto repairers with substantial financial investments in emissions testing.
The EPA rejected the first Virginia I/M plan in July. After meetings between state and EPA officials, Virginia filed a second plan later that month.
This plan proposed centralized testing for all cars older than six years, according to Becky Norton Dunlop, Virginia secretary of natural resources. For newer cars, the state offered a decentralized program in which independent testers could lease space in garages. The EPA, however, rejected this plan, too.
``That was when the congressional delegation said that this was ridiculous,'' Ms. Dunlop said. ``The EPA said our plan couldn't fit the regulation....Essentially, they were saying garage owners are dishonest.''
Virginia disagrees with the EPA that centralized I/M testing is necessarily better than decentralized testing, according to Ms. Dunlop. The current centralized testing program in the District of Columbia is ``a big mess,'' she said.