Proposal shouldn’t be rushed

Freshman state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr.’s proposal that Cambria County be removed from the list of counties where a vehicle emissions test is required each year should not be approved without a close evaluation by environmental experts and the opportunity for public input at formal hearings.

While from one perspective the suburban Johnstown senator’s idea makes sense, from another perspective it doesn’t, therefore requiring that state officials not act hastily to give Langerholc’s plan a go-ahead.

Actually, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection can’t by itself implement the change that Langerholc seeks; the final say rests with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, based on a revised state implementation plan that Pennsylvania would be required to prepare and submit.

But before preparing a revised implementation document, Pennsylvania needs to look at the proposal not only as an issue affecting the commonwealth but also as one with an impact well beyond this state’s borders.

Pollution, whether from one large source or from myriad smaller ones, doesn’t remain “locked” within a state’s borders, and small amounts of pollution add up to a situation less acceptable. As well as evaluating whether Cambria County should be allowed to shed its emissions-testing requirement, the matter of extending the emissions rule to counties not covered should be weighed.

Thus, while Langerholc’s proposal is well-intentioned, he might have opened a proverbial can of worms by the resolution he has introduced to direct the Joint State Government Commission to study his plan.

Cambria, Blair, Centre and Westmoreland are the only area counties where vehicles are required to pass an emissions test in conjunction with the vehicles’ annual safety inspection. The other 21 counties where emissions tests are mandated are in the areas of the state’s biggest cities.

Langerholc was quoted in the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat as saying that “the emissions-testing requirement made sense 20 years ago in order to ensure the worst-polluting vehicles were removed from our roadways, but advances in vehicle emissions technology have helped to ease many local concerns regarding air quality.”

He went on to say that “after nearly a decade of our region meeting federal air quality standards, it is a great time to take a closer look at whether this requirement still makes sense for Cambria County, and what costs we might incur if that requirement was removed.”

He told the paper he had received numerous calls from constituents who believe that such a requirement should not apply to Cambria when so many other area counties are exempt.

That viewpoint is understandable, but probably not from what they hope will happen. Based on what no doubt is the opinion of those deeply concerned about the environment now and for the future, most, if not all of the counties currently exempt, should be made to join the list for required emissions testing, rather than paring that list down.

Pennsylvania should always try to be a leader on the environmental front, rather than a less responsible alternative. That said, state residents shouldn’t be saddled with unreasonable burdens to maintain such a leadership role.

But, the currently required emissions testing is not unreasonable.

With Langerholc’s proposal on the table, this state and the federal government must look at the issue closely from all points of interest before deciding which way to proceed.