Auto emissions tests will be heading back to private garages
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
FILE PHOTO: Cars line up to be inspected at a Missouri vehicle emissions testing station.
Sweeping changes are just around the corner for the St. Louis region's controversial auto emissions test.
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation Friday that will put testing back in the hands of private garages, and will exempt cars that were built before 1996 along with those that log very few miles.
The key provisions of the new program are expected to take effect in September 2007.
"This is not just tinkering with the emissions testing program," Blunt said at a brief signing ceremony at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. "This is a massive change."
The governor, a Republican, echoed the concerns of many area motorists who felt that "the old program didn't work, was inconvenient and totally burdensome." The new program will be more convenient, he added, allowing motorists to get their safety and emissions tests in one stop.
State Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, a longtime emissions testing critic who sponsored the legislation, described Friday's signing as a "personal triumph."
"We are going to make it a lot more palatable for the general public," Griesheimer said. "If we have to do it, it's going to be a lot friendlier, easier on them. And that's the bottom line."
Missouri's air quality fails to meet federal standards for ground-level ozone, or smog. Emissions testing programs are required by the federal government to try to reverse that in such regions.
Missouri, Illinois and other states already tap into the on-board computers of 1996 and newer cars to test their emissions systems. The new test will rely exclusively on that computer system, scrapping the treadmill-like dynamometer that was used on older cars.
Air quality officials say the pre-1996 cars represent a shrinking share of cars on the highways but acknowledged they will initially lose some clean-air benefits.
Ron Reiling, executive director of the Missouri Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, said the independent shop owners are poised to take over the testing in fall 2007, although details must be worked out.
Participating shops would have to be certified by the Missouri Air Conservation Commission to perform emissions inspections.
In a separate action, Blunt signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ballwin, to allow a public-private partnership to build a new river crossing in St. Louis.
Under the bill, the bridge would be owned by Missouri and Illinois but built and operated by a private partner through a long-term lease agreement, the governor's office said.
The bill authorizes the collection of tolls. But in an interview, Blunt said such a partnership "does not necessarily mean tolls" because there are other mechanisms allowing the state to partner with the private sector.
Blunt said he wants to meet with Blagojevich and talk about the toll issue.
"Smart people can come together and figure out a way to get this done," Blunt said. "There's a lot of options on the table."
Blunt also signed measures:
Establishing a 12-member Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission.
Establishing an annual Rosa Parks observance on Feb. 4.
Designating May 10 each year as Hepatitis C Awareness Day.
The Associated Press contributed information to this report.