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Vehicle emissions testing goes up in smoke

Vehicle emissions testing goes up in smoke

A multi-year effort by Burnsville Republican Rep. Michele Presnell to scrap vehicle emissions testing requirements in more than two dozen North Carolina counties finally got the green light from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

“I am very pleased to see this finally occur. It was a long wait,” said Presnell July 23. “After initially receiving the announcement from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality that several counties — including Haywood — could be removed from the burdensome regulations of emissions testing, I started work on this project.”

Back in the summer of 2016, Presnell with then-House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, introduced the “Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016,” which included a provision that would remove vehicle emissions testing requirements in 26 of the 48 N.C. counties that had them. 

Presnell argued the requirement was burdensome, telling The Smoky Mountain News in June 2016, that “people in my district cannot afford to replace parts on their cars that cost hundreds of dollars that do little to nothing to improve emissions. My constituents are tired of paying good money for useless government-mandated testing.”

Presnell was accurate on both counts — median incomes in Haywood County, of which she represents but a portion, are well below state and national averages, and the effect of automobiles on air quality in the Great Smoky Mountains is low, according to the executive director of local air quality watchdog The Canary Coalition. 

“Obviously we have a problem with air pollution,” Avram Friedman told SMN in 2016. “Automobiles are a relatively small contributor to that problem. 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.”

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Friedman did say that a larger concern in terms of air quality were the coal-fueled industrial enterprises located upwind, to the west of the region in Tennessee.

Last May, Presnell offered “credit where credit was due” when Gov. Roy Cooper signed the 44-page bill, which contained a number of other unrelated proposals. 

But that wasn’t the end of vehicle emissions testing — the EPA had to sign off on the deal first. 

“The EPA in Washington had two years to approve it,” said Presnell. “This September will be one year, and now in about 45 days it will become law.”

Presnell said in a press release issued July 19 by Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Asheville, that Meadows was due no small credit for liaising between the N.C. General Assembly and the EPA. 

“This was a badly needed reform,” said Meadows in the release. “I’m thrilled to see five of my district’s counties on the list of those who will see the benefits of the exemption.”

Now exempt from emissions testing are vehicles registered in Brunswick, Burke, Caldwell, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Cleveland, Craven, Edgecombe, Granville, Harnett, Haywood, Henderson, Lenoir, Moore, Nash, Orange, Pitt, Robeson, Rutherford, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Wayne, Wilkes and Wilson counties. 

Counties where emissions testing requirements remain include Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Franklin, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lee, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Onslow, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Union and Wake. 

All other counties remain free from vehicle emissions testing.

“This will help a lot of people in Haywood County,” said Presnell. 

Presnell’s opponent in the November election, Haywood Democrat Rhonda Cole Schandevel, sees it differently; before losing to Presnell in 2016, Schandevel told SMN she disagreed with Presnell. She still does today.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Schandevel. “This legislation has little to do with the environment or putting money back into the pockets of our people here in District 118. This law redaction is nothing more than big business, politics as usual.”

Schandevel said that Presnell is “budding up to the National GOP agenda” and leaving Haywood County behind. 

“If this is about helping our family’s wallets, then I ask you Michele, why did you vote to repeal the Earned Income Tax Credit for low to moderate income earners?  This credit put far more money back into the families of the district’s hands than your choice to harm our environment ever will.”

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