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Lawmaker wants to scrap vehicle emissions testing

STATE COLLEGE — Every day, mechanics around the state check gas caps and look under hoods as part of annual vehicle emissions inspections.

But one state lawmaker says residents should no longer have to take their cars in for — and pay for — the annual inspections.

State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, told the Centre Daily Times that he thinks cleaner cars have made the inspections obsolete.

"I think the test needs to be tested," said Wozniak, who introduced a resolution earlier this year asking the federal government to end the requirement. "Virtually all cars pass the test, and it's time to re-evaluate whether it's just a waste of money for consumers."

PennDOT says about 4 percent of vehicles in the state annually failed the test in the past five years. In 2010, 4.22 percent of vehicles failed, and if one excludes the cases in which gas caps that failed were replaced, resulting in the car passing, the failure rate was only 2.43 percent.

State environmental officials, however, say that despite that the inspections still play an important role in keeping the air clean.

"Motor vehicles are responsible for as much as half of the emissions causing ozone pollution in the commonwealth," said Chris Trostle of the state Department of Environmental Protection's division of air resource management.

Trostle said the federally mandated plan began in 1984 in Pennsylvania, starting with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley, and now including more than two dozen counties. The federal government requires areas with high population density to have the separate tests.

Wozniak said the program made sense when it was introduced, but no longer.

"Those fleets of cars they were trying to address are long gone," Wozniak said. "The intention was correct decades ago. The law worked. Industry accepted the challenge. Now it's time to move on."

Trostle, however, said even newer vehicles can release more pollution than they were designed to emit due to malfunction or damage.

"The absolute benefits in terms of tons of pollution may be less now that cars are cleaner and more durable, but the program is still needed to ensure that vehicle pollution is addressed," Trostle said. "Without it, air quality would most likely deteriorate."

Others, however, suggest that here may be better ways to protect air quality.

"It appears we're making people have clean cars inspected," said Cheryl Hicks, executive director of the state Senate Democratic Transportation Committee.

J.R. Vratarich, of Tire Town in State College said his shop gets cars from Centre and Blair counties that require a certain level of testing, but they also receive cars from areas with more stringent requirements such as the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas. Still other vehicles come from counties, most with smaller populations, that have no separate emissions testing requirements at all.

Vratarich said the differing requirements cause headaches for his garage, and he'd prefer consistency whether the tests stay or go.

"I just wish it would be uniform statewide," he said. "They should use the same criteria in every county."

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