Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) charged into the battle over California’s smog check program Tuesday by introducing legislation that would repeal a key section of the federal Clean Air Act.
The Dornan measure would strip from the controversial 1991 law language that requires states to operate a state-managed, centralized emission testing program for automobiles. Instead, Dornan said states should be free to achieve smog reduction through a system of privately operated smog check stations, such as the one in place in California.
The measure is virtually certain to die in committee.
Officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation are threatening to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in California highway aid unless the state adopts a new system of state-operated smog check stations.
The stations would offer only testing. If a vehicle failed, the owner would have to take his car or truck to a garage for repairs, and then return to the state facility for a new test.
Gov. Pete Wilson and other critics argue that the move would cost roughly 3,000 jobs held by workers at the 1,300 private service stations that currently conduct smog checks for the state. The stations are permitted to make repairs, and retest vehicles that fail the test.
The state Legislature adjourned earlier this month without completing action on competing bills intended to overhaul the state smog check program. Legislative leaders have vowed to work with EPA Administrator Carol S. Browner to fashion a compromise to present to lawmakers when they reconvene in January. Browner, in the meantime, has promised to ignore a November deadline for imposing sanctions on the state.
In an interview Tuesday, Dornan conceded that his bill has virtually no chance of passing Congress. He said he introduced it to create a rallying point for those who oppose a federally mandated smog check program.
“The reason we did this was to rally people in California who might lose their jobs,” Dornan said. “We just didn’t want to sit around and twiddle our thumbs and let the state Legislature in Sacramento back away from a fight.”
Federal officials argue that California’s existing smog check system promotes fraud and abuse, by allowing the same service station operators who test tailpipes for pollutants to repair the cars that they’ve tested, and then test the cars again after the repairs are finished.
Democratic congressional aides have suggested that Dornan and other Republicans back the current state system because they oppose the larger principles of government regulation that are inherent in enforcement of the Clean Air Act. Others have suggested that a major oil company is preparing a major promotion of its own private smog check system.
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