Pyke: Will state budget woes worsen pollution?

 
 
Updated 3/1/2016 12:40 PM
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  • There was no wait at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's emissions test facility in Elk Grove Village Thursday. Drivers no longer get reminders that they're due to be tested, and that has EPA officials worried about the air quality in the Chicago area.

      There was no wait at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's emissions test facility in Elk Grove Village Thursday. Drivers no longer get reminders that they're due to be tested, and that has EPA officials worried about the air quality in the Chicago area. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Vince Delmoral, an IEPA traveling customer service representative, attends to a driver who brought a car in for emissions testing Thursday at an Elk Grove Village facility.

      Vince Delmoral, an IEPA traveling customer service representative, attends to a driver who brought a car in for emissions testing Thursday at an Elk Grove Village facility. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • You won't be seeing many Illinois vehicle emissions reports until a state budget impasse is resolved.

      You won't be seeing many Illinois vehicle emissions reports until a state budget impasse is resolved. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • Environmental experts say air pollution could increase in Chicago and the suburbs because Illinois no longer will require proof of a current vehicle emissions test, beginning Tuesday.

      Environmental experts say air pollution could increase in Chicago and the suburbs because Illinois no longer will require proof of a current vehicle emissions test, beginning Tuesday. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Environmental experts worry that the quality of air in the Chicago region could worsen now that the state budget impasse has led Illinois to  no longer will require proof of a current vehicle emissions test.

    Environmental experts worry that the quality of air in the Chicago region could worsen now that the state budget impasse has led Illinois to no longer will require proof of a current vehicle emissions test. Daily Herald File Photo

An earlier version of this story should have said Illinois began requiring vehicles pass emissions tests before drivers can renew license plates in 2008.

Could the state's budget chaos increase air pollution?

It's not a stretch, environmental experts say, given that drivers aren't receiving reminders in the mail about vehicle emissions tests and won't be penalized for skipping checkups starting Tuesday.

And without a stick to force everyone to get their cars tested, lungs breathing air tainted by thousands of vehicles emitting smog could be the next collateral damage from feuding between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers.

"There's a reason for inspections and maintenance requirements -- they're a fundamental building block of the Clean Air Act," Environmental Law and Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said. "Illinois should and must comply with the Clean Air Act because it's important to protect public health."

With Illinois absent a budget since July, money is running out and the secretary of state's office has suspended mailing vehicle registration renewal notices. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also is halting emissions test reminders.

Normally, you can't renew your license sticker without a current emission test, but Secretary of State Jesse White is waiving that requirement effective Tuesday until further notice.

About 1.9 million vehicles are tested for emissions annually.

"There is an impact to air quality, especially if older trucks are not repaired or taken off the road," said Angela Tin, vice president of environmental health with the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. "Data shows that 70 percent of emissions in the air come from cars and trucks, and in the U.S. most of the vehicles are gas-burning."

IEPA officials stress that there's no change in the law and that eligible vehicles still are supposed to be tested.

The state is collecting information to "analyze any impact caused by the suspension of test notices," IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs explained. "It is too soon to determine the impact of the test notice suspension."

The IEPA suspended mailing notices in December. The last mailers went out to drivers with license plates expiring in February but not for those due in March.

The secretary of state's office halted registration reminders in September but the full impact wasn't realized until January. Already revenues from fines for late registrations have doubled from 2015 and scofflaws are easy pickings for some local police departments.

Wanting to avoid piling on and dysfunction at facilities, White decided not to insist on the emissions test as a requirement for a sticker until the state has a budget.

In the meantime, state agencies and Rauner should collaborate to find a way to inform the public about emissions test deadlines, Learner said.

Chicago and the suburbs fall below certain national air quality standards, which is why emissions tests are required in the metropolitan area. Pollutants from cars and trucks lead to breathing problems and increase health issues for people with heart disease or asthma.

Emissions tests were instituted in Illinois in the early 1990s. Illinois began requiring vehicles pass emissions tests before drivers can renew license plates in 2008. The policy is working, Tin said. The number of "unhealthy" air quality days decreased from 26 in 2008 to zero in 2014, according to the U.S. EPA. Days categorized as unhealthy for sensitive groups dropped from 45 in Cook County in 2008 to six in 2014.

That progress is endangered if the budget impasse "drags on and we get into the warmer season ... and people are outside more often," Tin said. "We've got a lot of concern."

You should know

To check if your emissions test is due, grab your VIN number and go to this secretary of state website, www.ilsos.gov/regstatus/.

To find out more about vehicle registrations, check out www.cyberdriveillinois.com/; for testing info, go to www.epa.illinois.gov/topics/air-quality/mobile-sources/vehicle-emissions-testing/index.

Got an opinion about emissions tests or anything else? Of course you do. Drop me an email at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

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