WASHINGTON-Utah awaits official word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the state's 12-year-old decentralized program for vehicle emissions testing will receive the same credit as the test-only programs the EPA encourages. But the state still must prove that its test-and-repair inspection/maintenance program will provide the additional emissions reductions mandated by the EPA's enhanced I/M requirements under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
Like most states with decentralized I/M programs, Utah was angry with EPA rules which gave full emissions reduction credit only to states which separated emissions testing and emissions repairs.
States which refused to enact centralized I/M testing, the agency decreed, would receive a 50-percent reduction of credits.
The National Highway System bill passed last November forbids the EPA from automatically applying the 50-percent reduction. But the legislation also gives the agency the right to demand proof of emissions abatement.
According to the NHS bill, states have until the end of March to submit their interim Clean Air Act State Implementation Plans (SIP) to the federal agency. The EPA must accept the interim SIPs for 18 months, based on states' good-faith emissions reduction estimates.
The interim SIPS become permanent, however, only if the states can produce data showing their emissions reduction estimates are accurate.
In evaluating its decentralized I/M program, Utah asked the EPA's help, according to Joe Thomas, an engineer with the Utah Department of Air Quality.
``This was very important for us,'' said Mr. Thomas, who was instrumental in devising the protocol to evaluate the program. ``The basic concept was to show that the results from our test-and-repair program would be enough to meet the EPA's emissions criteria.''
Utah and the EPA devised a method of analyzing the emissions data from Utah's I/M program in comparison with results from Minnesota, which has a long-established test-only program. The analysis showed Utah's basic I/M program compared favorably with Minnesota's for overall emissions reduction, according to Mr. Thomas.
``But what about enhanced programs?'' he said. ``We'll have to go back and prove we can meet those standards, too.''
As of Jan. 10, Utah was still waiting for official word from the EPA Office of Mobile Sources that its I/M program will receive full emissions credits. A blizzard that hit the Washington, D.C., area Jan. 7 closed the federal government for several days, postponing the agency's decision.
Officials from Virginia, one of the first states to protest enforced centralized I/M testing, monitored the Utah analysis closely, according to Mr. Thomas. Other states also expressed interest, but more casually, he said.
In a press statement, Margo Oge, chief of the EPA Office of Mobile Sources, cited both Utah and Virginia as decentralized I/M states whose programs were working. Neither Ms. Oge nor Virginia state officials could be reached for comment.