April 07, 2020

New auto emissions testing proposals to be aired

State lawmakers Friday will take their first look at adding measures to the state’s car safety inspection program to cut emissions and bring the Portland area into compliance with federal air-quality standards.

At issue are two proposals to test the sealing power of gas caps and check on-board computers in vehicles produced in 1996 or later, in addition to the inspections all cars now must have each year. State officials estimate that implementing the new tests would cut car and truck emissions 1.5 percent immediately and up to 25 percent by the early years of the new millennium.

The two proposals differ only in the areas they cover. One would require the changes throughout the state, while the other would focus only on the Portland area — which has less than a year to comply with federal standards or face a federally implemented program in which the state would have no say.

On Friday, the Department of Environmental Protection will present the Legislature’s Natural Resources and Transportation committees with the results of a series of public hearings held around the state to discuss the issue.

“We haven’t drafted legislation for the committee to approve,” explained Ed Logue, director of DEP’s Eastern Maine regional office in Bangor. “We’re basically going back with the facts and discussing how we proceed from there.”

Logue predicted the geographic scope of the proposals would be the most controversial issue.

During most of the public hearings on the matter, he said, participants understood and generally agreed that the tests should be conducted throughout the state. At one of the Brewer hearings, several said such a move would prevent Portlanders from leaving their area for tests and would ensure that the most polluting cars do not end up concentrated in more rural areas.

A number of people at the Presque Isle hearing, however, said Portland should be responsible for its own mess and said any new rules should be implemented only there.

But going with a statewide testing program may be unavoidable if Mainers want to curb emissions through the existing safety inspection system.

“If we are going to use the auto inspections program, it is going to be very difficult to do that without going statewide because it’s a statewide program,” Logue said.

It may be too early to tell, however, what problems the proposals will face. Despite decent turnouts at hearings throughout the state, Logue said most of the people who attended were either mechanics or lawmakers — and few average consumers.

“It just isn’t one of those things that’s generated much public interest yet,” he said.

The committees will hear the DEP’s report at 11 a.m. Friday in Room 122 of the State Office Building in Augusta.

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