Our view: Governor Hogan is removing a bit of arbitrariness from a biennial interaction with state government
Every two years the notice comes in the mail — time to get your car's emissions test. You find time to drive to a Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program station somewhere, sit in line, drive into a test bay and wait while someone hooks some diagnostics up to your car — most likely not actually going anywhere near your tailpipe. A few minutes and $14 later, you're on your way, thinking to yourself, "Does anybody actually fail this test?"
Not that many, actually. The overall failure rate, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which co-administers the test with the Motor Vehicle Administration, is about 8 percent. But look specifically at new cars, and the failure rate is practically non-existent — about 0.5 percent for cars that are less than three years old.
In that context, it's not surprising that we have heard no hue and cry from Maryland's environmental advocates about Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal to exempt new cars from VEIP tests for the first three years rather than the first two. It's altogether possible that Maryland motorists were emitting more hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds and so on by driving new cars to the inspection stations than we were saving by conducting the tests.Make no mistake, VEIP is an important measure to protect the environment and the public health. The emissions in question are heavy contributors to smog and acid rain, and they are linked to respiratory diseases like asthma and even cancer. And efforts to control them have been a clear success.
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Maryland's emissions inspection program began in the early 1980s and expanded to its current form in the mid-1990s. Not coincidentally, Maryland's emissions of nitrogen oxide from cars and trucks dropped from 157,000 tons in 1996 to 54,000 tons in 2016, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. Sulfur oxide emissions dropped from 5,483 tons to 326 tons. Carbon monoxide: 1,372 tons to 292 tons. Volatile organic compounds: 106,000 tons to 26,000 tons. The emissions testing is required in all states by the Clean Air Act, and the trends nationwide are on roughly the same magnitude.
That's because regulatory standards have spurred the development and widespread adoption of new emissions control technology. California adopted the first admissions standards in the early 1960s and has continued to lead the way in tightening them, with a number of other states (including Maryland) tying their rules to those of the Golden State. Regulators there continue to press for stricter standards, even as the Trump administration has announced a review of rules for cars in the 2022-2015 model years adopted by the Obama administration. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and his counterparts from a dozen states have threatened to sue if the federal government tries to roll them back.
What the Hogan administration is seeking to do is something different altogether. It isn't backsliding on the notion that regulation of auto emissions is of vital importance for the environment and public health, it is merely recognizing that testing new cars after two years isn't accomplishing anything. Governor Hogan's move saves motorists a small amount of money and hassle, but more importantly, it conveys the message that the VEIP isn't some arbitrary exercise in officiousness. Good for him.