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emissions February 10, 2018

Changes in emissions program may spell relief for Northern Virginia

By Douglas Flint

If you have lived in Burke VA or Northern Virginia area for any length of time you have probably discovered that while your car is subject to an emissions test every two years, your relative or friend who resides in Richmond is not.

This is because only the five Northern Virginia counties (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford) are subject to mandatory emissions testing. Emission inspection programs are put in place by states when the Federal EPA determines air quality in a region is below minimal standards. If the state does not take corrective action (create an emissions program), the state loses federal highway funds. That is a big stick.

Air quality issues are almost always a condition of traffic density, and Virginia found it politically convenient to impose emissions testing on the Northern region only. But as air quality did not improve as much or as quickly as possible, it became apparent that half the cars and trucks on Northern Virginia roads on any given day were not from Northern Virginia, and thus not subject to emissions testing and repair.

Imagine a high school class of twenty kids. The teacher is told she must achieve an overall class average grade of 85 percent. She diligently tutors her pupils. But on test day, twenty more kids from who-knows-where are brought into the class to take the test, and the class average is a 72. The principal calls her in to ask why she cannot achieve the 85 average. Exasperated, she points out that she is being held responsible for students she didn’t teach. She is promptly fired (just kidding).

That is the position Northern Virginia has found itself in. All the gains of 100 Toyota Priuses are wiped out by one smoke-belching truck from southern Virginia. But now we have a new tool called RS-D (Roadside Detection).

Mobile emissions testing equipment is being set up at busy intersections in Northern Virginia. The new technology can measure tailpipe emissions and snap a picture of the license plate of the offending vehicle just as easily as a speed camera can catch speeders. If the vehicle is from Virginia, they will be required to get an emissions test regardless of what county they are from. If they are from out of state there may be jurisdictional problems, but at least we will know where the pollution is coming from.

Initially the focus will be gross polluters: those vehicles belching large quantities of emissions. But as the program is refined, more sensitive testing will be possible. All this should ease the pressure on Northern Virginia.

“Yeah, but what if that old ‘88 pickup truck I keep to haul mulch gets caught?” Good question. If your vehicle is caught by an RS-D unit you will get a letter telling you to take that vehicle to a Virginia emissions station for a follow-up test (that’s us).

If your vehicle passes the test you will not be charged and it will be assumed to have been a false reading. But that probably won’t happen because this equipment is really good. Most likely you will fail the test and the ordinary rules of emission failure will be in place. As the program evolves and becomes more sophisticated you may even get a registration renewal showing no emissions testing required because you passed through an RS-D unit a month ago.

You can get more information at the Virginia DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) website. Let’s keep it clean out there.

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