9 Investigates: Are emissions tests a waste of money?

9 Investigates: Are emissions tests a waste of money?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — David Witherspoon sais he's always taken his cars for emissions testing like he's supposed to.  "I've never had a car fail," he said.

But more states are getting rid of emissions testing or thinking about it.  South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, and Alaska told Action 9 they don't require it, Washington state is cutting the program after this year, and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division said, in two years, the state may look at doing the same.

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There are 100 counties in North Carolina. In 2006, 52 had good enough air quality, the U.S. EPA and state lawmakers told them they could stop emissions testing.  Just a few months ago, 26 more came off the list. That leaves 22 counties. Seven are in the Charlotte area: Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Union.

So Action 9's Jason Stoogenke asked the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles how many cars pass and fail in those remaining counties. The agency told him 94.9 percent passed last year. That means drivers had to get that test to catch 5.1 percent of cars.

"I just think it's another thing for us to pay as residents of this state," driver Michelle Worth said.  North Carolina drivers pay $30 each year for the emissions test.  "When you're retired and on Social Security, that's a lot of money.  So, yeah, I think we should stop it," driver Gloria Swanner said.

"It's a nuisance. It's a hassle.  It's really a tax," Ray Nothstine, with the conservative policy organization, Civitas, said. "Newer vehicles are just so much cleaner.  They're fuel efficient.  And, so, all of this testing really is not producing the desired results."

"It doesn't mean cars are clean.  It doesn't mean vehicles don't emit pollution because they do," June Blotnick, with Clean Air Carolina, said.  "We're going to pay either on the front end or the back end." She said, "We're going to pay with climate change which the state is already paying for and everybody's going to end up with their taxes paying for it.  And health care."

Plus, she points out, even though only 5.1 percent of cars failed emissions tests last year, that was still 279,525.  "We can't just say, 'Oh, everybody's passing, there's not a problem anymore.'  There still is a problem," Blotnick said.

A lot of drivers agree.  "Sometimes when I drive on the road, I used to see some cars that you can see the smoke coming and they still on the road.  That's very bad for the environment," one told Action 9.

If North Carolina wants to take more counties off the list, state lawmakers would have to pass a law naming the counties that wouldn't have to do it anymore.  They'd have to make sure the federal government -- more specifically the U.S. EPA -- is ok with it first.
Some vehicles don't have to get emissions tests:
- Some light-duty vehicles less than 3 years old or have fewer than 70,000 miles 
- Vehicles built before 1995 
- Diesel-operated vehicles
- Registered farm vehicles