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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has recommended a plan to state air regulators that would remove Franklin and Jefferson counties from the St. Louis area’s vehicle emissions inspection program.

Under the plan, St. Louis city plus St. Louis and St. Charles counties would remain in the Gateway Vehicle Inspection Program for now, said Darcy Bybee, director of the state’s air pollution control program.

“We believe that they (Jefferson and Franklin counties) do not need it in order to attain air quality and compliance with the federal standards,” she said, “but the other three counties, we still have to continue our computer modeling and evaluation to make sure it’s no longer necessary.”

The Missouri Air Conservation Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on the proposal. The commission is independent of the DNR, and votes to either accept or reject DNR’s recommendations. The plan also requires the approval the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to go into effect.

A separate plan to scrap the required sale of reformulated gasoline (RFG) in the St. Louis area is also on the commission’s Thursday agenda.

Bybee said the four counties and St. Louis are in compliance with the EPA’s 2008 ozone standards, and that Jefferson and Franklin counties — excluding Boles Township in eastern Franklin County — meet more-stringent 2015 standards.

Because of high ozone levels, the St. Louis region is the only area in Missouri where emissions testing is required. Automobiles are the largest source of the chemicals that form ozone, but factories, utilities, the petroleum industry and industrial solvents also contribute.

Ozone is a respiratory irritant that can cause health problems, especially for children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases.

Air quality in the St. Louis region improved from an average of 30.3 days of poor air quality a year in the baseline time period of 2009-2011 to an average of 14.0 days per year in 2016-2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But the pending vote has frustrated environmental and public-health advocates, who worry the region will backslide without the pollution controls.

“If you’re going to do away with these proven strategies, the question is what’s going to replace the pollution reductions that are being foregone?” asked Paul Billings, national senior vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association.

He said that even though newer vehicles emit fewer ozone-causing emissions, the reductions are dependent on a vehicle’s emissions control system working properly.

Bybee said the DNR was not planning any mitigation measures to replace the ones it plans to remove.

“There’s no additional controls that would be required to replace these,” she said.

Bybee said the department’s projections show ozone pollution decreasing through 2030. The projections show pollution decreasing even more if the pollution controls were in place, she acknowledged.

Removing the inspection requirement is likely to please legislative Republicans, many of whom targeted the Gateway Vehicle Inspection Program during this year’s legislative session. The efforts failed amid concerns the state would lose federal transportation funding.

The Air Conservation Commission has four Republicans and one Democrat. The Democrat, Mark Fohey, of Hannibal, said he would not be able to attend the Thursday meeting.

There are two vacancies, which Republican Gov. Mike Parson has the authority to fill. None of the commissioners scheduled to vote on the proposal on Thursday live in the St. Louis area.

“The people making this decision don’t have to breathe this air, and given that St. Louis has got the worst air in the state, and the most people, it is not a coincidence that there is nobody on the Air Conservation Commission from St. Louis,” said John Hickey, director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter.

Reformulated gasoline targeted

The second plan targets reformulated gasoline rules, which require gas stations in the St. Louis area to sell fuel that incorporates ethanol and other components, reducing smog-causing pollution.

Bybee said Parson would have submit a formal request to the EPA for the agency to officially remove Missouri from the RFG program.

The influential Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association is pushing the state to drop the RFG rules.

Ronald Leone, lobbyist for the group, said when conventional oil sales are allowed, consumers and small businesses benefit because conventional oil is easier to source than “boutique” blends.

“I use the example of ice cream,” he said. “The more places that use chocolate and vanilla, the more likely there’ll be plenty of chocolate and vanilla to go around. If you have to produce 31 flavors of ice cream, there will be many times in which certain flavors are unavailable or more expensive.

Reformulated gas is “harder to get, oftentimes more expensive, and the pricing of it is more volatile because it’s made in smaller batches,” he said.

According to the EPA, about 30% of the gasoline sold in the United States is reformulated. It is used in 17 states and Washington, D.C., the agency said. The agency estimates that 75 million people in the United States “breathe cleaner air” because of reformulated gasoline.

In Missouri, former Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan’s administration in 1999 “opted in” to requiring fuel in the St. Louis area be included in smog-reduction efforts, according to the agency.

“The air quality benefits (reformulated gas) has achieved represent a significant part of the country’s smog reduction strategy,” the EPA says on its website.

The Missouri Corn Growers Association raised concerns about the state no longer including reformulated gas in pollution-reduction efforts.

“The area has 10% ethanol to thank for the better air quality,” said Missouri Corn Growers Association CEO Gary Marshall. “The increased oxygen in ethanol helps fuel burn more completely, which reduces harmful tailpipe emissions and toxic additives that contribute to ozone pollution.”

Marshall said, however, that the group “would assume minimal change in ethanol usage” in Missouri because of a 2007 law that requires petroleum marketers to use ethanol blends whenever the price is cheaper than regular unleaded gasoline.

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