Md. Gov. Moore’s administration halts Hogan attempt to scale back state’s vehicle emissions testing

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

As former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was heading out the door a few weeks ago, his administration attempted to push through changes to the state’s vehicle emissions inspection (VEIP) program — over the objections of environmentalists and a legislative panel that examines proposed state regulations.

But now the new regulation — and an accompanying procurement process designed to execute the Hogan administration’s plan to scale back emissions inspections — has been put on hold. Although state agencies under Hogan had sought to limit the number of vehicles that required an emissions test, the decision by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and the Department of the Environment to scotch the procurement and pause the implementation of the new regulation preserves the status quo for now: Vehicles that are 3 years old or older will continue to need a $14 state emissions inspection every two years.

“In order to fully evaluate input from all stakeholders, including the Maryland legislature, the agencies have issued a Cancellation of Procurement for the VEIP Management and Operations Request for Proposal (RFP),” a statement provided to Maryland Matters by a spokesperson for MVA, which administers VEIP, said.

The proposed changes to VEIP were a long time coming. The MVA and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) spent several years looking to update the four-decade-old program, which requires motorists to take their cars and trucks to an emissions inspection station every two years.

Central to the Hogan administration’s proposed change was a provision that would have only required cars and light-duty trucks to get the biennial emissions tests after they were 6 years old. Hogan administration officials argued that improved technology in the state’s emissions inspection equipment and in the vehicles themselves eliminated the necessity for testing vehicles between 3 and 6 years old.

Lawmakers attempted to slow-walk the proposed regulations and the procurement, with minimal success, during the final days of the 2021 General Assembly session. They expressed dismay that the Hogan administration would move forward with such a dramatic change to the state’s emissions inspection program without consulting the legislature or members of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change.

“Our view was Gov. Hogan was trying to reset public policy through the procurement process,” said Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Eventually, the Hogan administration’s proposed regulatory change came before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) in December 2022. That panel voted to reject the proposed regulatory change, as lawmakers argued that only requiring older cars to get emissions tests largely impacted poorer Marylanders who can’t afford newer vehicles — and meant that wealthier residents or owners of newer cars wouldn’t be paying into the state system for monitoring auto pollution.

“It places a disproportionate burden on already-burdened communities,” Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), who was co-chair of the AELR panel when the VEIP regulation came up late last year, said in an interview. “We were also very concerned because we didn’t feel like they adequately consulted with the advocates.”

Lindsey Mendelson, the clean transportation representative of the Maryland Sierra Club, said it was “inappropriate for Governor Hogan to move forward with the regulations in light of these concerns.”

But AELR has limited powers when it comes to proposed regulations from a gubernatorial administration. Lawmakers can vote to reject a proposed emergency regulation that would otherwise take immediate effect, but only have an advisory role on non-emergency measures.

So by the final days of the Hogan administration, in mid-January, lawmakers and environmentalists who had opposed the changes to the VEIP program were resigned to seeing the new rules for emissions tests take effect.

“Now the question becomes, what is the process to undo that?” Del. Samuel Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), the co-chair of AELR, told Maryland Matters at the time. “We will try to discuss it” with officials from new Gov. Wes Moore’s administration, he added.

But advisers to Moore (D), including his chief legislative officer, Eric Luedtke — a former legislator — and one of Luedtke’s deputies, Saif Ratul, who monitors environmental policy, were clearly paying attention. Now officials at the MVA and the Maryland Department of the Environment, under the new governor, are seeking a new course of action.

“The MDE and MDOT MVA are dedicated to modernizing the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP), while maintaining Maryland’s significant air quality progress. The agencies are currently engaged in a thorough evaluation of the VEIP program and its state regulations,” MVA spokesperson Ashley Millner said in an email to Maryland Matters.

Del. Regina Boyce (D-Baltimore City), a senior member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said she believes requiring as many vehicles as possible to get an emissions test is an essential way to evaluate the state’s ability to monitor air pollution from automobiles.

The transportation sector has been the biggest source of air pollution and carbon emissions in Maryland for decades. According to a study from the Maryland Department of the Environment, transportation accounted for 35% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

“If we really want to capture the emissions, then everybody needs to be in the program,” Boyce said. “If we want people to be part of the environmental process, if we want the full data, then everybody’s got to be part of the program.”

Barve said he’s been assured that the Moore administration wants to work closely with lawmakers and other stakeholders to modernize the emissions inspection program.

“It’s refreshing, frankly,” he said.

Vehicle emissions in the spotlight

The Hogan administration’s attempts to change the VEIP program coincided with a decision by the former governor that effectively put a one-year pause in the state’s participation in a multi-state alliance that requires new vehicles sold in Maryland to meet the same emissions standards as those sold in California.

Maryland has followed California’s emissions guidelines for new cars and light trucks since 2007 — an arrangement that began for 2011 model year cars and trucks. In all, 14 states have been using California regulations, rather than weaker federal rules, as a yardstick for vehicle emissions for several years.

But Hogan did not sign an order adopting the second phase of the regulatory framework before the end of the year, and state environmental officials are continuing to review California’s new emissions regime. Even though the state is committed on paper to participating in the alliance, Hogan’s delay removed Maryland from the program for at least a year.

Serena McIlwain, Moore’s acting secretary of the Environment, who came to Maryland from California state government, told delegates at a hearing last month that resolving the state’s vehicle emissions standards was a top priority for the new administration.

“There’s an issue with the fact that we’re having this gap year,” she conceded.

Environmental groups plan to hold a rally in Annapolis late Monday afternoon to urge the state’s swift re-entry into the California program — and to support Moore’s legislation that would bolster incentives for people and businesses that purchase electric medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks and charging stations.

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