Raleigh, N.C. — State House lawmakers voted Tuesday to repeal vehicle emissions testing in 29 of the 48 counties where it's currently required.
House Bill 169 started out as a proposal to repeal the requirement in six rural counties, but it ballooned to 29 counties in the House Finance Committee last week.
The testing requirement was put into place over the last three decades to meet federal air quality standards after the state repeatedly exceeded thresholds for ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. Sponsor Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said a study by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources shows the 29 counties can now stop emissions testing and still meet those federal limits.
"We’re having cleaner cars, better mileage," Hager said. "In addition, we’ve closed down a lot of power plants.
"Let’s relieve our citizens of the burden they have of having to pay this every year," he urged.
"This gives more freedom to the counties that are being eliminated," agreed Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston. "Some of these requirements and standards are specious at best."
Democrats argued that the proposal should have been vetted by the House Environment Committee, which never heard the bill. But Hager and other Republicans successfully defeated a move to send it to that committee, arguing that the legislation needs to get through the House quickly and get to the Senate.
The bill would require emissions tests in only the following counties: Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Rowan, Union and Wake.
Counties where the testing requirement would be repealed as of 2020 are Brunswick, Burke, Caldwell, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Craven, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Haywood, Henderson, Lee, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Onslow, Robeson, Rockingham, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson.
"We’re looking at counties that are very near the metropolitan counties that are subject to the vehicle emissions. How many people from Chatham County drive to Durham County or Wake County and add to the pollution for work?" asked Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham. "We would let many, many vehicles that are used in metropolitan counties, that contribute to pollution in metropolitan counties, to not be inspected."
Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, echoed that concern, recalling that his county has had problems with exceeding federal standards in the past.
"That was very terrifying because that would create a huge economic problem for New Hanover," Catlin said. "It won’t be just New Hanover County, it’ll be the counties around it. It’s a big problem if we don’t take a hard look at it."
But other lawmakers from non-attainment counties didn't share the concern. From Wake County, where emissions testing would still be required, Republican Rep. Marilyn Avila argued for easing the requirement elsewhere.
"We accomplished in some counties what we set out. In that case, what we should do is reward our success in solving the problem," Avila said.
"The inspections created the success, and the inspections can keep the successes in place," protested Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
"It can be reinstituted if it becomes necessary," Avila said.
Bill supporters argued that new on-board technology in cars controls emissions on its own, so the testing requirement is outdated.
The repeal would be effective in 2020. Another amendment would have moved the date up to Jan. 1, 2016, but it was defeated after budget Chairman Rep.Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, warned that would affect the current year budget of the Division of Motor Vehicles, which receives $6 from each emissions test to fund its inspection programs for both emissions and safety, the latter of which would still be required.
The proposal passed 72-35 and now goes to the Senate.