Legislation that exempts newer passenger vehicles from emissions inspections may reach more cars than originally anticipated, potentially costing the state millions of dollars in revenue and threatening its compliance with federal regulations. The measure, rewritten and approved by senators in the early-morning hours of the last day of the legislative session, was signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue last week. It exempts vehicles three years old and newer from annual checks designed to fight air pollution. But it might also exempt other vehicles with fewer than 70,000 miles that were built after 1996 – more than tripling the number of affected vehicles. Johanna Reese, deputy commissioner of the state Division of Motor Vehicles, called the Legislature’s decision “unexpected.”
A lobby group that opposed the bill said the confusion is the result of forcing the measure through in the waning hours of the legislative session. “I think that the legislators that wrote this and passed this, along with the governor, they did it very quickly without any thought process,” said Robert Pulverenti, executive director of Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina, a group that opposed the bill. Pulverenti worries the anticipated reduction in the number of inspected cars could jeopardize federal approval for air quality. “It’s been interpreted by most that any vehicle with less than 70,000 miles on the odometer will be effected,” said Pulverenti. “There’s a good chance that now the state of North Carolina is not going to meet air quality standards.” More vehicles on the roads without emission checks affect the state’s attempts to meet Environmental Protection Agency air quality benchmarks. It also results in less revenue for state programs, which receive funds from inspection fees and had been expected to see a reduction of more than $2.3 million. Vehicle owners allowed to forego the emission inspections would save $16.40 annually.
The new law reads that a motor vehicle is subject to an emissions inspection if “it is a 1996 or later model and older than the three most recent model years or a 1996 or later model and has 70,000 miles or more on its odometer.” The Division of Air Quality was preparing for the last-minute legislative change to apply to 1.7 million vehicles, not the slightly more than 500,000 vehicles it previously estimated, said spokesman Tom Mather. The agency changed its position after questions Friday from The Associated Press. It now is preparing to exempt vehicles less than three years old that haven’t topped 70,000 miles, Mather said. “In our defense, the language in the bill is easy to misinterpret the way it is worded,” Mather wrote in an email. The law takes effect in 2014. Under the current regulations, emission inspections are mandatory for applicable vehicles in 48 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Mather said. Cars manufactured from 1996 to the factory year before last are required to have mandatory emission checks, he said.
Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, has worked for years to exempt newer, cleaner vehicles from emissions testing. The language involving vehicles with fewer than 70,000 miles was added by a negotiating committee formed on July 2. The Senate approved the reworked version at 12:37 a.m. on July 3. The General Assembly adjourned hours later. Bingham said the intent of the mileage provision was to require that cars that are less than three years old but with more than 70,000 miles be required to have emission checks, not to increase the number avoiding the checkups. He wasn’t aware that the state agencies were conflicted. “It concerns me a great deal because it could make the bill fail,” Bingham said of the EPA uncertainty. “It’s a concern of mine because my initial intent was that this is a common sense bill to save taxpayers money.”(Allen Reed, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/03/12).