Tuesday, April 20, 2004

E-check farce needs to end soon, or now

Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
If Ohio finally pulls the wheels off annoying E-checks next year, what happens to 44 state-owned testing stations? Make mine a drive-through liquor store and BMV office with a carwash in back.

It's perfect. People drive to the BMV; the BMV drives them to drink; and the state will rake in extra liquor taxes to pay for free car washes. We deserve it after 10 years of getting hosed by E-check.

"It's a worthless aggravation to the motoring public," said Ohio Rep. Courtney Combs, R-Hamilton, a former Butler County commissioner.

"E-check is a $20 rip-off," said Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Anderson Township.

"It's a complete disaster," said Gov. Bob Taft when he ran for office in 1996 - before he backed over his pledge to kill it.

"This is about politics, not pollution," said Tom Hagedorn of Anderson Township. He has tapes of Taft's promises, and has battled E-check for 10 years. "The more I read, the more concerned I became. The more concerned I became, the more I read," he said. "It's not very sound science."

Combs and Brinkman say E-check tailpipe-test benefits for air quality are "zero." Hagedorn says, "The effect is so small, it's insignificant."

Ohio EPA's Web site says E-check is "the most cost effective" way to reduce smog. It claims emissions are reduced 85 to 91 percent in cars that are repaired to pass.

But the 2002 failure rate was highest for cars built in 1981. Most of those are now rusting in junkyards. The failure rate for cars built since 1993 is below 3 percent in Ohio, and under 2 percent in Kentucky.

"They're taking credit for changes in the auto industry," Combs said.

As California stepped on the gas with clean-air regulations, automakers had to cut emissions on all new cars or lose a huge market.

"Last year, 99.9 percent of the cars 5 years old or newer passed the test," Combs said. A law to exempt those cars passed the House last year, but the Ohio Senate rejected it because the state needed cash, he said.

Ohio takes 81 cents of each $19.50 testing fee. And it would have to pay the testing company, Envirotest, for cars not tested. That was Taft's excuse for a U-turn on E-check: It would cost millions to bust Ohio's 10-year contract.

But it wouldn't be the first time a politician wrote a check to buy votes. Hagedorn thinks there's more to the story.

The E-check contract expires in 2005. Brinkman and Combs say they have growing support to kill it.

"I hope it ends, but they have 100 different ways to make this continue," Hagedorn said. And No. 1 is lobbying, he said.

If E-check is scrapped, the federal EPA could tighten the screws on smokestack industries. Steel companies, factories and power plants provide jobs, and they have lobbyists to woo politicians. E-check-afflicted drivers do not.

State lawmakers could exempt all cars built since 2000, and leave E-check in place to appease the EPA. Or they could use the $175 million spent testing 9 million cars a year on something that actually works.

Hagedorn suggests roadside sensors that sniff pollution, then photograph license plates. "Or can I pay and just not go?" he asks. "Can I just send them a check?"

Paying $20 "protection" to keep the EPA from killing jobs is not as cool as a drive-through carwash and liquor store BMV.

But writing a check still beats an E-check.


E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.

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