Emissions testing in Haywood will likely be eliminated

By Vicki Hyatt | Apr 12, 2017
Kyle Brooks, a Ford certified technician, conducts a vehicle inspection at Taylor Motors in Waynesville last month.

Motor vehicle emissions testing in Haywood County may be on its way out.

A N.C. Senate bill addressing regulatory reform included a section rolling back emissions testing in a number of counties. Haywood has long been one of the 48 counties in the state subject to the provision, and the Senate version of the bill continued the practice.

However, N.C. Rep. Michele Presnell offered an amendment on the House floor that excluded Haywood, which means the change must be OK’ed in a conference committee before it is part of the measure sent to the governor for approval.

“Removal of Haywood County from emissions testing has support from Rep. Mike Clampitt and Sen. Jim Davis. Senate Bill 131, which includes the provision, has been all but ‘pre-conferenced’ between the House and Senate,” Presnell wrote in a recent newsletter to her constiutents. “I would say its chances of making it to the governor’s desk are strong.”

Haywood was among the 48 counties in the state where vehicles manufactured after 1996 and were less than three years old that had to undergo annual emissions testing.

A N.C. Department of Environmental Quality study determined air quality has improved in many areas, including Haywood, to the point where vehicle emission testing could be ceased. Presnell supported a measure rolling back emissions testing last session, but it failed to pass.

Presnell contacted the Haywood County commissioners twice seeking their support on the measure, and at one point told constituents the measure couldn’t go forward without their approval.

Board members discussed the issue, but took no action, stating they would like more information on it, specifically how it would impact Evergreen Packaging, the county’s largest employer.

Years ago, air quality monitoring tests in Haywood showed that levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and particulate matter were so high that new or expanding polluting industries may not have been issued operating permits.

When commissioners didn't hear back from Presnell, they took no action. A second email requesting a vote came just several hours before the March 20 meeting, which didn't leave enough time to put the issue on the agenda, County Commission Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick explained.

In a March 27 newsletter, Presnell warned constituents the commissioners may block emissions removal and asked voters who were tired of wasting time and money on vehicle emissions inspections to call and email Haywood County Commissioners to tell them. She provided a list of the commissioners’ email addresses and telephone numbers.

She urged voters to not only contact the commissioners but have their friends do so also.

"Commissioners’ support is needed to move forward with removing emissions inspections from Haywood County," the newsletter stated.

Commissioners reported they received less than a dozen calls or emails each, and noted the public opinion was mixed.

Commissioner Michael Sorrells said he received four calls from people wanting to end emissions testing, but got other comments from people saying they are fine with things as they are.

“I have had one phone call and about seven emails,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley wrote in an email response to The Mountaineer, adding that public sentiment was mixed.

He shared what he called “one of the more thoughtful responses,” which was from a science teacher who said he has not only seen, but collected data showing that vehicles are a primary contributor of the greenhouse gases and pollution particles that have far-reaching, negative consequences. He advocated continued testing to ensure vehicles operated as cleanly as possible.

After further studying the issue, Ensley said he is OK with the testing requirement being lifted, especially since Evergreen Packaging has converted some of its boilers to natural gas, which reduces emissions considerably, as well as the chance any future industry could face trouble getting a state operating permit.

Kirkpatrick said he was puzzled by Presnell's statements about the commissioners blocking the emissions change.

"To me, it is up to our state representatives to make that decision," Kirkpatrick said. "It is not something that is locally controlled. I didn't have a position either way."

Kirkpatrick said Presnell out and out lied to her constituents by saying the commissioners were standing in the way of the legislation.

"It wasn't our decision to make so we weren't standing in the way of anything," he said. "She submits bills all the time without discussing it with us. She never once asked about partisan school board elections, so why ask for something like this?"

In an email response, Presnell clarified that to get needed support from N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, who represents Haywood in the Senate, she needed to demonstrate the commissioners were on board with the idea.

Though there was never a formal commissioner vote, a discussion between Kirkpatrick and Davis cleared the way for a floor amendment to the regulatory reform bill in the House.

"We did not weigh in as a board," Kirkpatrick said, "but I told Sen. Davis I would not stand in the way if that’s what they wanted to get passed."

In her newsletter, Presnell reported "overwhelming support" for ending emissions testing after she asked constituents to contact the commissioners — a response she said indicated it was time to act. The floor amendment passed unanimously.

“With the passage of Senate Bill 131 into law, it’s safe to say residents of Haywood County will put at least $1 million back in their pockets every year,” her newsletter telling constituents about the successful amendment removing Haywood from emissions testing.

Several "House Update" communications sent out by Presnell outlined the reasons she supported the measure, including that emissions testing was a hardship on middle and low-income families, it was an inconvenience to get a waiver, that such testing is a money grab and that forcing people to spend limited resources on emissions inspections is wrong.