RICHMOND, Va.-Virginia is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in what one official called ``a self-defense move'' in the continuing controversy over vehicle inspection/maintenance programs. The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern Virginia federal district court Jan. 9, seeks a permanent injunction against both the EPA and the Department of Transportation from imposing sanctions against the state for not establishing an EPA-approved I/M program.
It also calls for an appeal of the EPA's refusal to approve the decentralized I/M plan proposed by Virginia.
With few exceptions, the EPA has insisted on centralized, test-only testing facilities as a centerpiece of any state I/M proposal. If a state does not submit an EPA-approved plan, the agency will direct DOT to withhold all that state's federal highway funds-in most cases, hundreds of millions of dollars.
To protect Virginia's independent repair shops, the state legislature passed a law last year forbidding the separation of I/M test and repair functions. This led to an often acrimonious debate between the EPA and the Virginia Department of Natural Resources, with the agency declining to approve either the original Virginia I/M plan or an alternative proposal from the Department of Natural Resources.
In October, the EPA agreed to consider a compromise plan from Virginia. The agency, however, said the state has yet to submit anything new. On the other hand, state officials claim the agency reneged on its promise.
``When our technical staff met with theirs, we discovered they would not approve a decentralized plan,'' said DNR spokeswoman Julie Overy. ``(EPA Administrator) Carol Browner said she would approve hybrid plans, but she won't necessarily offer full emissions credit to any such plan.
``We're not encouraged this promise of flexibility will translate into action,'' Ms. Overy added. ``They've had ample opportunity to demonstrate flexibility since October, and they have not done so.''
In the lawsuit, the state accused the EPA not only of making unreasonable demands, but also of violating constitutional guarantees of state sovereignty.
``The real issue raised by the EPA's `do-it-my-way-or-else' threat is that it's a good example of the federal government's abuse of the Bill of Rights,'' accor-ding to a statement in a press release from Virginia Attorney General Jim Gilmore.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency does not discuss pending lawsuits. ``But we do believe the Clean Air Act is lawful and constitutional,'' she added. ``We will work to ensure our partnerships with the states protect public health.''