The Lowdown on New Jersey's New Emission Testing

By Casey Ann Cruser

On June 2, 1996, New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman signed legislation #SCS-1700, the "Federal Clean Air Mandate Compliance Act," into law. The act requires motor vehicles over four years old to report to centralized testing facilities for "enhanced emission inspections."

Inspections will be biannual. A vehicle that fails inspection must be repaired. Private inspection facilities (PIFs), or your favorite local mechanic, can only perform repairs and reinspections after they spend $25,000-$30,000 for the necessary equipment.

The Federal Clean Air Act permits PIFs to "perform inspections on vehicles four years old or newer and, to

"There is a lot of
sentiment in our
(Republican) caucus
to abolish S. 1700."
— Sen. John P. Scott,
R-Lindhurst, New Jersey

the maximum extent feasible,
permit private inspection facilities to perform initial inspections on motor vehicles that are more than four years old and to repair and reinspect all motor vehicles." At this time, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the NJ Division of Motor Vehicles do not find it feasible to permit PIFs to perform initial inspections on cars more than four years old.

The New Jersey Gasoline Retailer's Association and Allied Trade, Inc. notes that since PIFs are able to perform repairs and reinspections, there is no logical reason for not allowing them to perform initial inspections.

But what does this act mean for New Jersey drivers? It means that if a vehicle is more than four years old, it must be inspected at a state agency. The state feels that because inspections will be biannual, public burden will be minimized. Yet think about the time spent in line at state inspection agencies. Now take into consideration that more than one-third of inspections are done by PIFs. Currently, the State is able to complete an average of 20 inspections an hour. With the new equipment required by the Federal Clean Air Act, that number will drop to six.

The new inspection will not cost a dime. The system will run just as it does today, with inspections being paid for out of registration fees. However, vehicle registration will increase $20-$24 dollars to offset costs. With the biannual inspection, that is a possible increase of $40-$48 per inspection cycle.

If a car is less than four years old and the owner chooses to go to a PIF, the cost of inspection will be about $60. This is not the fault of the PIF. The NJ Gasoline Retailer's Association pointed out that PIFs are going to find it difficult to get back their initial investment for the necessary enhanced emissions inspection equipment.

With biannual inspections, the best PIFs could expect from cars four years or newer is the possibility of two inspections per car with no chance for repairs, due to the 5- year/5,000-mile manufacturer warranty on emissions. The private inspection industry is also concerned that, in several years, the equipment will lose its value because the state will have changed equipment requirements and/or test procedures. Therefore, it can be expected that many PIFs currently performing inspections will not continue to do so under the new law.

Dick Kamin, Director of Motor Vehicle Services in New Jersey, admits that more cars will fail the initial test because the state will be testing for one additional tailpipe pollutant, nitrogen oxide gases. The failure rate is expected to be one-third of the vehicles tested.

The DMV will issue a certificate of waiver to certain cars, good for emission inspection requirements in one inspection cycle, or two years. The cars that receive waivers must be able to pass the current idle exhaust emission test. Owners of these vehicles must have spent a set minimum amount on emission-related repairs in order to qualify for the waiver.

In a test run of the program in California, drivers of gross-emitting vehicles paid an average of $630 to bring their cars to standard. The waiver amount in New Jersey is $200 for 1981 and later vehicles; $75 for pre-1981 vehicles. This amount is not considered to be adequate enough to bring flagrant polluters into compliance.

To qualify for a waiver, repairs must have been performed by a registered motor vehicle emission repair facility or by the owner of the vehicle, "provided he or she possesses a nationally recognized certification for emission-related diagnosis and repairs," according to the law.

Reinspections of vehicles that have failed two consecutive initial inspections during the two most recent on-cycle inspections must be performed at an official inspection facility.

The Federal Clean Air Act allows for random roadside examinations of vehicles that are required to be inspected in New Jersey. Remote sensing technology can be used to monitor emissions however the director of DMV deems appropriate.

California began using remote sensing devices in late December. Vans equipped with lasers measure tailpipe emissions from passing cars. Those vehicles grossly exceeding state air-quality standards will have their license plates videotaped. Law enforcement officers will then mail notices to owners.

When President Clinton signed the new National Highway Act into law on Nov. 28, 1995, he gave states the freedom to establish their own emissions testing system. Public outcry against Whitman's Clean Air Act was slim because of how quickly and quietly the law was passed. Whitman often declares this law to be the major environmental achievement of her administration. However, Sen. John P. Scott, R- Lindhurst, says that "there is a lot of sentiment in our (Republican) caucus to abolish S. 1700."

States such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas have opted to fight these new federal mandates. On Monday, Feb. 26, the state Senate delayed voting on a bill that would stop the development of this more stringent inspection system until neighboring states such as Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Delaware adopted similar programs. "You are looking at March of 1998 or beyond," said State Transportation Commissioner Frank Wilson. The vote was delayed at the urging of Governor Whitman. Without the delay, the DOT plans on getting the system running by January 1997.