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Foes Seek Suspension of New Smog Check Plan

Pollution: Lockyer is among 63 legislators pressing governor for changes in law targeting older, dirtier cars.


SACRAMENTO — Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer joined 62 other state legislators Monday in urging Gov. Pete Wilson to suspend the new Smog Check II program just as it gets underway.

The Hayward Democrat charged that implementation of the program, aimed at cleaning up the dirtiest cars in the smoggiest regions of California, has "resulted in confusion and anger on the part of car owners and mechanics alike."

In a letter to Wilson, Lockyer called for a "temporary moratorium" by the state Bureau of Automotive Repair and the convening of public hearings "to clarify discrepancies."

Sean Walsh, the governor's press secretary, said Wilson is not authorized to suspend the program but added that he wants to "work with the Legislature to make appropriate changes."

Walsh said top-level Wilson administration officials, including Cabinet members, are studying Smog Check II with a view toward ensuring that it will work smoothly and effectively.

"To change Smog Check II, we need legislative action," Walsh said. "It is a matter of doing this in an efficient manner with minimal disruption and that also keeps us in compliance with federal law."

Lockyer said he believes that Wilson has the "general authority" to suspend the program.

Smog Check II was enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Wilson in 1994 as a major step toward complying with strict federal clean air standards. Failure to meet the standards can result in major penalties, ranging from a cut of billions of dollars in federal funds to mandatory alternative drive days.

The program targets so-called "gross-polluting" cars in the dirtiest air basins of the state. These vehicles account for about 10% of California cars but are blamed for causing half of automobile-produced smog.

Usually they are older models and often are owned by low-income drivers.

The new law requires owners to repair gross-polluting vehicles regardless of the cost. It also prohibits renewal of registration until they comply. If a motorist spends $450 on repairs, officials may grant a two-year waiver on further repairs.

But the phased-in implementation of Smog Check II has ignited an uproar in the San Francisco Bay Area, where some radio talk show hosts have criticized the program.

They cited a never used provision of the law that they claimed would allow authorities to confiscate the worst polluting cars. The Legislature last month removed that provision from the law.

Lockyer joined 62 other members of the Assembly and Senate who earlier called for a moratorium and public hearings.

An aide said Lockyer, who voted for the program in 1994, made his appeal to Wilson as a result of "literally hundreds of phone calls and letters from constituents."

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