eCheck faces uncertain fate

Shelley Blundell

An emissions inspection on all gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles is required every two years.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Keith Eckmeyer is mad.

Eckmeyer, a Kent resident and president of the Coalition Against Testing, has been fighting emissions testing, or eCheck, in Ohio for more than nine years. Currently, only 14 counties in Ohio have mandatory eCheck testing, but issues surrounding eCheck soon could become a lot more interesting.

Ohio’s contract with Envirotest Systems Corp., a private Californian company that conducts emissions tests, expires Dec. 31 of this year, and Ohio lawmakers must decide whether to renew the contract with Envirotest, look at other companies, eliminate the emissions tests altogether or expand the testing to all 88 counties.

“The way I see it, the Constitution guarantees equal rights and treatment of all citizens,” Eckmeyer said. “Why are 14 counties paying for an 88-county headache?”

Furthermore, he said, the biggest problem with motor vehicle pollution in Ohio has nothing to do with the cars themselves. Rather, it is the fuel the cars are burning that causes the most damage.

“Until we make the fuel industry comply with a specific standard, we’re going to have problems — we’re one of only four states that doesn’t have fuel regulation laws, and I think that’s worth looking into,” Eckmeyer said.

Dave Rohrich, sophomore business management major, drives a 1990 Ford Eagle Talon and a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse. Because Rohrich bought the cars from states that did not require regular emissions testing, neither car had a catalytic converter and both failed their initial emissions tests. The converter removes most of the pollution from the exhaust before it leaves the car.

“Both cars passed the computer portions of the test but failed the end diagnostic checks,” Rohrich said. “I installed catalytic converters to both, and then they passed, no problem.”

According to the Ohio Vehicle Emissions Testing program’s 2003 annual report, an emissions inspection is required every two years on all gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles that are both 25 years old and newer and registered in one of Ohio’s 14 counties with mandatory emissions testing.

An emissions inspection costs $19.50 if the car passes, which, the report states, is one of the nation’s lowest fees for enhanced emissions testing. The report also states that an average of 81 cents from each test across the state goes to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to cover administrative costs of the program. The majority of the remaining fee goes to Envirotest to cover operating costs.

While eChecks should be performed by trained inspectors, accidents do happen. In 2003, 591 damage claims were filed with Envirotest from Ohio eCheck stations, 30 percent of which proved valid. The report also kept a record of customer complaints, stating the majority of program-related complaints alleged the program was unfair, the rules were not effective and the program was not cleaning the air.

“I don’t think the program is effective at all,” Rohrich said. “Most of the cars that are required to be checked are the ones that aren’t problematic.”

If the objective of eCheck was to keep cars that didn’t meet emissions standards off the road, Rohrich said, then it isn’t working.

“There are all kinds of ways to get around that sort of thing, especially in Ohio,” Rohrich said. “You hear horror stories from places like California: Cars getting stopped for speeding or whatever are told to pop the hood, and if anything is found, the owners are arrested for not complying with emissions standards. That doesn’t happen here. You can get tested, pass, take whatever you want off your car and keep it that way for two years.”

But, Eckmeyer said, that still doesn’t justify having emissions testing in the first place when more than 92 percent of cars pass tests annually.

Ohio lawmakers have until Dec. 31 to decide on the fate of eCheck in the state.

Contact general assignment reporter Shelley Blundell at [email protected].