EPA, California war over auto smog inspections

By , Staff Correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor

During its waning days as part of the Carter administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a parting shot at President-elect Ronald's home state.

Citing the failure of California to adopt a mandatory program of regular vehicle pollution inspections, the EPA has moved to withhold $850 million in federal public works funds. Under the US Clean Air Act, California is one of 29 states that have areas with serious smog problems. These states were supposed to have air pollution inspection programs in place by July 1979. California and Kentucky now are the only ones without them.

The battle between automobile-loving California and the EPA has gone on for several years.

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State officials point out that California already has the strictest emission standards in the nation -- stiffer than federal standards -- and inspection is required whenever a vehicle changes hands.

But environment regulators in Washington, noting the horrendous among problems in some parts of California, say the law is the law. The Clean Air Act requires annual smog inspection in "non attainment" areas (those that fail to meet federal air standards), they assert, and there are no exceptions.

California legislators, meanwhile, have debated the subject for several years without enacting an inspection program. It is a clear matter of states' rights, many of them say.

In the end it is a Californian who will probably have the last word, however. During his presidential Campaign, Ronald Reagan talked of reining in the EPA. The Republican Party platform preached against "cumbersome clean air regulations." The Clean Air Act itself is up for renewal next year. As for the threatened withholding of federal money for such things as highways and sewer systems, officials in California are concerned . . . but not too worried.

For, as an EPA spokesman concedes, "these sanctions were a discretionary decision and could be reversed by a new administration."

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