RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Older cars apparently won't get an unintended break from North Carolina's pollution emissions tests now that state agencies have agreed the exemptions contained in a new law are narrower than what some believed.
The law signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue last week initially confused some state officials and garage owners who said it could excuse more than triple the number of vehicles than first expected.
But the Division of Air Quality and Division of Motor Vehicles said this week they will carry out the law by exempting vehicles three years old and newer as long as their odometers haven't reached 70,000 miles in the 48 counties where the tests are mandatory. Others had said the law's language could have applied to any car built after 1996 as long as it hadn't eclipsed 70,000 miles.
"The bottom line is if the vehicle is more than three years old, there's going to be an emissions inspection," said Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, who had worked previously on similar emission test legislation.
The unified view on how to implement the law came in part after a legislative bill drafter confirmed the law's language only applied to the three newest model years, officials said.
"Everybody is looking at it the same way," DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell said.
The new exemptions wouldn't begin until January 2014 at the earliest.
State regulators must first get the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because emissions testing is part of the state's program to meet federal clean-air standards. A joint study by the two divisions found a three-year exemption wouldn't affect the state's adherence to the standards. Other states also have similar exceptions, said Tom Mather, an air quality division spokesman.
The law also says the exemption can't take effect until after a new computer system linking the state to thousands of private inspection stations is replaced. That begins this fall and could take two years to complete, Howell said Thursday.
About 5.5 million vehicles were required to pass an annual emission inspection as of February 2012, according to a report from the General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division.
About 587,000 vehicles would have been exempted if the tests weren't required for the first three model years, the report said, although it would be fewer because of the 70,000-mile cap. Had the law been interpreted as applying to any car built after the 1996 model year, the number of exempt vehicles was in the neighborhood of 1.7 million, according to Howell.
Motorists must pay $16.40 for each emissions inspection, of which $11 is kept by the inspection station and the rest goes to other state accounts and funds.
Safety inspections, which cost $13.60, will continue on vehicles in all 100 counties.
The Program Evaluation report determined that overall emission inspection revenues would fall by more than $60.5 million in inspection revenues would fall by more than 10 percent with a three-year model exemption.
Bingham said he would seek to clarify the law during the 2013 legislative session if questions about the law's intent resumed.
The bill passed the General Assembly on the final day of this year's legislative session. Supporters say new cars don't need emission tests because they have better technology to reduce pollution.