Auto emissions testing in Haywood to go?

Residents of Haywood County stand to save at least $1 million a year if relaxed emissions standards become law — and there’s a good chance they will. 

“It’s something we don’t agree with and we may make a statement about, it but it is probably not worth the expenditure of our limited resources to fight,” said Avram Friedman, executive director of air quality watchdog group The Canary Coalition.

A measure championed by Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, in the last legislative session has resurfaced as an amendment to an omnibus deregulatory bill titled the Regulatory Reform Act of 2016-2017.

The proposed act is a legislative salad consisting of a few dozen mostly unrelated actions, like ensuring that farriers don’t need licenses and the Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t need to conduct public hearings for mining permits; the motor vehicle emissions inspections portion of the act removes Haywood County from the list of counties required to conduct emissions inspections.

Previously, 49 of North Carolina’s 100 counties had such required inspections; language in the amendment removes 24 of them, but retains the requirement in North Carolina’s largest urban areas, including nearby Buncombe County. 

“I don’t believe auto emissions are a major contributor to poor air quality on Western North Carolina in general,” Friedman said. “Cars are by and large much cleaner, and older vehicles are most affected, which are few and far between.”

Those vehicles are also leaving N.C.’s roads in increasing numbers as they age. 

“In the bigger picture it’s a very small issue in Western North Carolina,” he said. “From my perspective, we should pay attention to all sources of air pollution, but I don’t see a great public outcry from that particular aspect of the bill.”

Friedman said that power production — specifically coal-burning power plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and even Western North Carolina — are “absolutely the biggest issue” in terms of air pollutants and climate issues because they produce carbon dioxide and methane in large quantities. 

Last June, Presnell said that her constituents were “tired of paying good money for useless government-mandated testing” and called that testing a “sham.”

Weeks ago, Presnell sent out an email asking her constituents to contact Haywood County Commissioners and voice their opposition to emissions testing, despite her history of ignoring the wishes of those same commissioners; a resolution to make the county tax collector an appointed position and a separate resolution requesting an increase in the county’s room occupancy tax have both recently fallen on deaf ears. 

In an email sent last week, Presnell noted that the current amendment to remove the 24 counties passed unanimously. 

“A vote doesn’t get any more bipartisan than 114 to 0,” she said in her email. 

Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, obviously supported the amendment, which has no effect on any other counties in their respective districts — no county west of Haywood has ever had an emissions testing requirement. 

“Eliminating excessive rules and red tape through commonsense deregulation of North Carolina’s bureaucracy has been a priority of conservative leaders in the General Assembly since 2011,” Clampitt said. 

Presnell said that her $1 million estimated savings figure is based on the cost of the $30 emissions inspection alone, and doesn’t even factor in the cost of unnecessary and expensive repairs. 

Citing a previous study, Presnell also said the DEQ supports removing the testing requirement in Haywood County and said she thought the chances of Senate Bill 131 hitting the governor’s desk were “strong.”

Even with a Gov. Roy Cooper veto, Presnell said in her email that the act should have “plenty of support” in the House and the Senate to override Cooper’s veto.

Part of that may have to do with the nature of the bill itself — with more than 100 sections amending, clarifying, and repealing state requirements in areas as diverse as data storage and soil conservation, every legislator in the state would be affected by some provision of the bill.

Presnell did not respond to an email requesting comment on this story. 

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