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Wilson Renews Smog Check Law : Pollution: If a compromise with the federal government is reached before the legislation takes effect next year, the overhauled rules could supersede it.


SACRAMENTO — Rejecting Clinton Administration arguments, Gov. Pete Wilson on Thursday signed legislation aimed at cleaning up the air by overhauling the state's automobile smog checking program.

Wilson's action occurred even as progress was reported in renewed negotiations between state and federal representatives over how best to get California into compliance with federal clean-air laws.

The new California law will not take effect until next year, giving federal and state officials ample time to reach an accord. If a settlement is reached, the accord could be swiftly enacted and supersede the law Wilson signed Thursday.

The new law preserves the current system authorizing 9,000 local garages and service stations to both test vehicle emissions and make repairs, a double role that critics contend encourages fraud. It also authorizes random roadside testing, imposes stiffer penalties for fraud, requires smog technicians to be better trained and bans the worst polluters from the roadways.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials contend that the bill is inadequate.

Wilson, who endorsed the bill as a "common sense" way to cleanse the air without further jeopardizing the economy, signed the measure in his office without the public ceremony that usually accompanies high-profile issues.

In a statement, the Republican governor insisted that the bill will meet federal standards but said he is willing to continue negotiating to "improve upon the framework we have established in this legislation."

In Washington, EPA spokeswoman Denise Graveline said the bill does not bring California into compliance but added that officials "look forward to working out additional modifications so Californians can have a Smog Check program that makes both economical and environmental sense."

Negotiators for both sides said progress toward a compromise was being made and that talks will resume on Tuesday.

Earlier in the week, federal EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner urged Wilson to veto the bill. She said the legislation would go only halfway toward meeting federal exhaust emission reduction standards.

Federal EPA officials have warned that unless the Smog Check program is reformed, additional controls on industrial sources of air pollution will occur automatically in 1995.

Originally, Washington had threatened sanctions sooner. But one week after the Northridge earthquake, Browner canceled discretionary sanctions that would have cost California about $800 million in highway funds this spring. She took the action as President Clinton was promising massive federal aid to help Southern California recover.

Monday, Wilson agreed to resume the talks, the first round of which occurred Wednesday in Sacramento. The governor imposed a deadline of Thursday for reaching a solution, but it went unheeded.

State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who has sued the state and federal governments for immediate enforcement of the Clean Air Act, accused Wilson of using the smog issue to help him win reelection.

"It's consistent with the governor's apparent stratagem to blame Washington for all the state's woes--immigration, smog and now the earthquake," Hayden said. "He's going to with his hand out to Bill Clinton (for immigration and earthquake relief) and attacking federal bureaucrats at the same time. He wants it both ways."

The EPA's Graveline said a centralized network of facilities that would only test vehicles--not repair them--was now considered merely one option on the table.

She said acceptable alternatives could include routing newer cars to garages for both testing and repair, if necessary. Other cars would go to test-only stations, be repaired elsewhere and return for a second test.

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