Skip to main content
State Seal State Seal State Seal
Home Button Home Button Home Button

Northeast Ohio lawmakers want feds to lift E-Check; Ohio EPA says that's unlikely

Published By on August 15, 2023
Bill Roemer In The News

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have asked the Ohio EPA to work with Washington to end the requirement in seven Northeast Ohio counties that drivers get the emissions checked on their vehicles every two years.

However, in a letter written in response to the lawmakers, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel said that while air quality has vastly improved in Northeast Ohio in the 27 years the E-Check requirement has been in place, “the area does not meet the current health-based standard for ozone.”

Ozone is one of six pollutants for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The others are carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5,) Vogel’s letter states.

Rep. Bill Roemer, a Summit County Republican who is spearheading the effort among the bipartisan coalition, said he’s considering his next steps.

The emissions standards fall under the Clean Air Act. The federal law does not allow states to apply for waivers, or alternate programs, said Ohio EPA spokesman James Lee.

The Cleveland-Akron area was classified as “moderate” due to frequent violations of the federal health-based ozone standard. The Clean Air Act mandates vehicle emissions testing programs for “moderate” non-attainment areas. If ozone air quality does not improve, the U.S. EPA is likely to elevate its classification to “serious” non-attainment, which will require additional restrictions along with the E-Check program as soon as 2024.

Roemer has been involved in a handful of actions in an attempt to end E-Check, currently required for most vehicles registered in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit counties. He was involved in the passage of two House resolutions calling on the state to work with the federal government to eliminate E-Check. He asked U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, a Bainbridge Township Republican, to help him get through to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and he has talked directly with the EPA.

 “I think Northeast Ohio’s air has massively improved,” he said. “And given that, it’s time to stop penalizing the people in those seven counties in Northeast Ohio. This is the No. 2 item that people reach out to my office about. No. 1 is property taxes, No. 2 is E-Check.”

The state covers the cost of the emissions checks, at about $11 million a year, Roemer said. Since new cars meet federal emissions requirements off the assembly line, only cars that are four years old and older need to be checked. By the time a vehicle is 25 years old, it qualifies for collector tags and does not need emissions checks, Roemer said.

Technicians formerly checked emissions coming from vehicle tailpipes, but these days they can obtain the information from the vehicle’s computer. They use a mirror to check below the car, making sure the catalytic converter is still on. They also check the seal on the gas cap, ensuring emissions aren’t being released from the gas tank, Roemer said.

Most cars that are four-, five- and six-years old pass, Roemer said.

Older cars can fail, which requires repairs that the state does not cover. But drivers only need to prove they’ve spent up to $300 to fix the problem. If costs run over that amount, the drivers can receive a certificate that allows them to continue to operate their vehicle.

Roemer said that E-Check unfairly penalizes the working poor, who are more likely to drive older vehicles.

 Since many vehicles pass E-Check or drivers get the certificate that allows them to stop short of completely fixing an emissions issue, Roemer’s not convinced that E-Check is the answer to air pollution concerns.

He credits the improvements in Northeast Ohio’s air quality over the decades to new vehicle efficiency. The loss of steel and auto plants in the area has also resulted in lower emissions levels, he said.

Rep. Sean Brennan, a Parma Democrat who signed onto the letter, also is skeptical of E-Check.

“I am definitely in favor of clean air, I’m a big environmentalist,” he said. “But I just haven’t seen any evidence that the E-Check program is very effective. The bigger vehicles, in my experience when you’re driving down highway, it’s the big semis billowing the black smoke, it’s not the average car.”

 Brennan said that the $11 million would be better spent on a state education campaign to teach Ohio residents efforts they can make to reduce emissions.

 “I’d like to see more money put into public transportation,” Brennan said.

 Roemer pulled emissions data from the Ohio EPA’s website for the last 30 days and found that from the Ohio River to Toldeo, various regions of the state have worse levels of air pollutants than Northeast Ohio.

 His letter noted that the Swiss air technology company IQAir found that Columbus’ PM 2.5 levels were worst in the country last year. Yet Central Ohio drivers aren’t required to get emissions checks.

Ohio EPA officials tried to better understand IQAir’s data about Columbus, but the company didn’t provide it, Vogel wrote in response.

 “The official air quality monitoring system in the Columbus area shows all National Ambient Air Quality Standards are being met,” she said.

In fact, all areas of the state are meeting federal air quality standards, except for the Cleveland-Akron area, said Lee, the Ohio EPA spokesman.

 Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to categorize municipal areas by the severity of the concentration of ground-level ozone and prescribed specific emissions control programs based on the level of non-attainment.

“The Cleveland-Akron area was classified as ‘moderate’ due to frequent violations of the health-based ozone standard,” she wrote. “The Clean Air Act mandates vehicle emissions testing programs for ‘moderate’ non-attainment areas.”

Air pollution standards ratcheted up in 2015. Roemer says that it’s unfair that Northeast Ohio continues to be held to higher and higher standards.

But Vogel noted that the Cleveland-Akron area has continuously violated the 2015 ozone standard – “to the extent that U.S. EPA is likely to elevate its classification to ‘serious’ non-attainment which will require additional restrictions, with the E-Check program, beginning as soon as 2024.”

Signing the letter with Roemer and Brennan are Reps. Sharon Ray, a Wadsworth Republican; Sarah Fowler Arthur, an Ashtabula Republican; Daniel Troy, a Willowick Democrat; Melanie Miller, an Ashland Republican, Steve Demetriou, a Bainbridge Township Republican; Gayle Manning, a North Ridgeville Republican; Dick Stein, a Norwalk Republican; Sean Brennan; Gail Pavliga, a Portage County Republican, and Bob Young, a Summit County Republican.

Read Full Article