State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate is preparing to send a raft of federal officials its demand that the vehicle emissions testing mandate for Lake and Porter counties be permanently ended.

Copies of Senate Resolution 4, which was unanimously approved in January, soon will be mailed to President Donald Trump; Vice President Mike Pence; the national and regional heads of the Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.; and all nine members of Indiana's U.S. House delegation, including U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary.

It requests that Lake and Porter counties be removed from the Chicago air quality monitoring zone, so the Region no longer is subject to heightened pollution controls, including vehicle emissions tests, that are required due to occasional poor air quality in Illinois and Wisconsin.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who sponsored the resolution, said he hopes that by targeting seemingly everyone in a position of power to do something about the emissions testing requirement, that the federal government might finally take some action.

"It's not needed anymore," Niemeyer said. "Our monitors are all clean (in Indiana). The only two bad monitors we had have been in Chicago and in the southern part of Wisconsin over the years."

Niemeyer also pointed out that vehicles owned by Northwest Indiana residents contribute just a fraction of the ozone produced in the Region, since hundreds of thousands cars and trucks travel daily through Lake and Porter counties on Interstates 80, 94 and 65.

"We're really kind of the major crossroads of Indiana," he said. "So many of those vehicles are not Lake and Porter county vehicles on those roads, and we're the only ones that have to be tested."

State Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, agreed with Niemeyer that Northwest Indiana residents are being unjustly targeted by having to get their vehicle emissions tested every other year once their cars and trucks are 4 years old.

Residents of Indiana's 90 other counties are not subject to vehicle emissions testing.

"What Sen. Niemeyer is doing should have been done 15 or 20 years ago," Mrvan said. "We in Lake County, Porter, the state of Indiana, have done a fine job where our industries are working and helping the environment."

"But we're victims of what's happening in the Chicago district, and it's totally unfair and too expensive."

The state spends approximately $5 million a year, and the federal government annually contributes an additional $5 million, for vehicle emissions tests at Clean Air Car Check stations throughout the Region.

Northwest Indiana motorists also spend an unknown additional amount of money on vehicle repairs if they are unable to pass the emissions test for any reason, from a missing gas cap to serious exhaust system problems.

Niemeyer said even if the emissions testing program ended, and that $5 million in state funds was designated for use outside Northwest Indiana, that still would be better than "wasting it on this program that's no longer needed."

Last summer, a legislative study committee examined what might happen if Indiana simply refused to comply with the federal mandate for vehicle emissions testing in Lake and Porter counties.

It learned that noncompliance could result in the federal government withholding all transportation funding for both roads and mass transit projects, such as the South Shore Line expansion, as well as taking over administration of the state's anti-pollution programs.

That finding prompted state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, to quip: "This is the one time that I may agree with Donald Trump when he says he wants to get rid of the stringency of all these regulations."

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.