By JOE FOLLICK email@example.com The Courier-Journal
Don't count on sneaking your smoky old jalopy around the vehicle-emissions test just yet.
The Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental watchdog group, notified the state and federal government Friday that it will sue to keep the testing program in Jefferson County.
Last year the General Assembly enacted a law that would end the 19-year-old program Oct. 31.
But Tom FitzGerald, director of the resources council, contended that only the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the power to end the testing, which was implemented to curb pollution. The county began the program in 1984 under an agreement with the state and the EPA.
"You just can't unilaterally pull these components out and say, `Gee, I don't want to do these things anymore,'" FitzGerald said.
While the county might be meeting pollution standards that it had failed when the VET program began, it is not clear if the area could meet new, tougher standards, FitzGerald said.
Pat Moran, an environmental attorney and a member of the Greater Louisville Inc. environmental affairs committee, agreed.
"I think it's pretty clear," he said. "If (the General Assembly) wants to make a change ... they have to have the EPA approve it."
John Riley, who has led the "Stop the VET" group that opposes testing, said yesterday that a lawsuit could open up the door for the EPA to overrule the General Assembly.
"I'm concerned. Every citizen of Jefferson County should be concerned that we've spoken as a community that we no longer want the emissions testing," Riley said. "The government officials that were responsible for seeing to it that our wishes were kept hopefully have not dropped the ball."
Kerry Holt, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, said yesterday that the agency hasn't received the resources council's notice and could not comment.
No one in the EPA's regional office in Atlanta was available for comment yesterday afternoon.
Previously the EPA told officials in Louisville that it is "concerned" about killing the emissions program, but it has not acted to prevent the closing of the testing centers.
FitzGerald's mandatory 60-day notice means that resources council can file suit in federal court, either in Frankfort or Louisville, on or after Nov. 12.
That timing creates a problem, said Art Williams, director of the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District, the agency overseeing the emissions-testing program. He said it would cost an unknown amount to shut down the five testing centers as scheduled on Oct. 31, only to reopen them later
"Our focus at this point is to try and get a decision as soon as possible," Williams said.
Williams and FitzGerald said the EPA could end the debate if it says the metro government can't end the testing without its approval.
"I'm hopeful the EPA will step in, and I won't have to sue," said FitzGerald, adding that he waited to file his notice to sue until after the Air Pollution District addressed the issue. Last month the district said that it couldn't overrule the General Assembly's decision to kill the program.
In July the district said that ending the testing could increase hazardous air pollutants by 11 percent.
FitzGerald said he would ask the city, state and EPA to waive the 60-day notice so he can file suit before the centers are to close next month.
Last month the five centers tested 36,464 vehicles and determined that 1,779 had excessive emissions.