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EPA agrees to end emissions testing program in Anchorage

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday agreed to let Anchorage end its vehicle emissions testing program after 27 years, saying all the hassle isn't necessary for air quality.

But that doesn't mean the program will go away immediately. The Anchorage Assembly in 2010 voted to stop the program -- pending approval of the EPA -- but also agreed to delay its final death until six months after the EPA approval in order to give emission testing companies time to prepare.

The program requires that Anchorage drivers get their cars and trucks tested every two years and costs drivers a maximum of $68, depending on fees charged by the testing company. Cars up to 6 years old are exempt, as are antique cars.

The emissions testing program was started in 1985 in order to help Anchorage meet federal clean-air standards for carbon monoxide, but Anchorage has not violated the standard since 1997.

Tuesday's action follows a back-and-forth history by the Assembly over the I/M issue.

The Assembly first voted to get out of the program in 2007 but then reversed that decision eight months later, with new members on the Assembly saying it reduces other pollutants besides carbon monoxide. Finally in 2010 the Assembly decided it did want the program dead after all but not until six months after EPA approval.

In the midst of the political wrangling, municipal air quality manager Steve Morris said the city started doing an air quality analysis meant to convince the EPA to agree the program wasn't needed. It included modeling of how Anchorage's air would fare with projected population growth in the future. The state then formally made the request to EPA in September 2010 to drop the program and EPA agreed Tuesday, giving a Feb. 9 effective date for its decision.

EPA officials in Seattle and Anchorage said Tuesday the main reason behind the local drop in carbon monoxide has been the production of more efficient vehicles that don't pollute as much.

EPA Anchorage air compliance inspector John Pavitt said that about a decade ago a lot of the vehicles in town were flunking their I/M tests.

"You're just not finding a lot of dirty cars any more," Pavitt said. "There is a lot of effort putting everyone through that program with few results any more."

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has been pushing to get rid of the testing program. His predecessor as mayor, Mark Begich, said Tuesday that he'd also supported ending the program.

Begich, now a U.S. senator from Alaska, said he called the EPA's regional director in September and asked him to get moving on approving its final end.

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