WASHINGTON-Acting on its promises of last December, the Environmental Protection Agency will soon issue a proposed rule giving states greater flexibility in establishing enhanced emissions inspection/maintenance programs for vehicles. The proposal will allow states to choose I/M options less drastic than the ``IM-240'' test the EPA developed. State governments balked at the IM-240 test, because the necessary testing equipment is extremely expensive and beyond the reach of many repair shops.
Since auto repairers cannot judge whether emissions repairs are done properly without the equipment, state officials argued, this creates the dreaded ``ping-pong'' effect in which motorists are forced to go back and forth between testing facilities and repair shops, time after time.
The states also objected to the EPA's heavy emphasis on test-only facilities and its refusal to grant full emissions reductions credits to states which allow test-and-repair facilities.
But the new proposal will give states several I/M choices. They may, for example, choose an emissions testing program simpler than IM-240 and make up the difference with emissions reductions from other sources. A combination of newer and older testing technologies would be permissible, as well as combined test-only and test-and-repair facility programs, bi-annual testing, use of remote sensing devices and credits for technician training programs.
``The broad range of inspection program options.*.*.*will allow states the flexibility to meet local needs and conditions without sacrificing improved air quality,'' said Mary Nichols, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation.
Protests from several states caused EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner to meet with the governors of those states last Dec. 8. From that meeting, the governors elicited a promise from Ms. Browner to soften the agency's previous inflexibility in approving and overseeing the I/M programs.
Speaking April 19, Ms. Browner said the EPA action ``recognizes that each state knows what is best for itself in meeting Clean Air standards.''
Three states-Texas, Maine and Pennsylvania-have suspended their enhanced I/M programs because of consumer protests. Twelve other states have put implementation of their programs on hold pending further study.