Air Pollution:

EPA Not Adequately Ensuring Vehicles Comply With Emission Standards

RCED-90-128: Published: Jul 25, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to control air pollution from motor vehicles, focusing on EPA efforts to: (1) identify vehicles exceeding emission standards before and after they are sold to the public; (2) ensure that such vehicles are returned to compliance; and (3) monitor state programs to reduce motor vehicle emissions.

GAO found that: (1) all vehicles sold must be certified by EPA as capable of meeting federal emission standards throughout their useful life; (2) motor vehicles are responsible for over one-half of annual air pollutant emissions; (3) the EPA program for testing vehicles was not adequately identifying those that would fail to meet emission standards; (4) EPA had little assurance that it was identifying all properly maintained in-use vehicles that were failing to meet emission standards; (5) EPA has reduced its testing of in-use vehicles and now tests only one-third of vehicles of the most recent model year; (6) between 1985 and 1987, less than one-half of the vehicles recalled for emission system problems were repaired; (7) EPA established a timetable for options to increase the recall response rate; and (8) EPA did not routinely determine the effectiveness of all programs in meeting specified emission reduction requirements.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress, as part of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, included a user fee provision authorizing EPA to charge manufacturers for some testing costs. EPA states that user fees will be charged to manufacturers beginning with model year 1993 vehicles.

    Matter: Congress should include in final Clean Air Act legislation a user fee provision authorizing EPA to charge manufacturers for some or all of the testing costs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA required specific operating data annually on the number of vehicles, by model year, that pass or fail emission tests. This data should enhance EPA ability to monitor the effectiveness of the inspection and maintenance programs.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that state inspection and maintenance programs are operating effectively and in compliance with their state plans for achieving air quality standards, the Administrator, EPA, should not wait for passage of the Clean Air Act amendments and should proceed with efforts to formally require states to submit semiannually specific operating data, such as the number of vehicles by model year passing or failing emission tests.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA issued its final inspection and maintenance regulation on November 6, 1992 which contained detailed guidance to states on required measures to increase vehicle owners' response rates to manufacturers' recalls for emission-related repairs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should select and implement options that would best increase recall response rates. If warranted, the Administrator should seek additional legislative authority to implement those options that are not currently within the Administrator's authority to implement.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has increased testing during 1992 and will assess the results to determine the extent of testing needed.

    Recommendation: In order to better prevent the sale of vehicles that in use fail to meet emission standards, and to better identify those already sold, the Administrator, EPA, should determine the appropriate level of testing necessary to ensure that noncomplying vehicles are identified and determine the resources needed to fund any additional testing.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is increasing the number of vehicles it performs emission tests on during 1992.

    Recommendation: In order to better prevent the sale of vehicles that in use fail to meet emission standards, and to better identify those already sold, the Administrator, EPA, should change the testing of in-use vehicles to include a sample of nontargeted vehicles and thereby provide more comprehensive coverage of the in-use motor vehicle fleet.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has initiated interim changes that allows automobile manufacturers an alternative procedure to certify vehicles, including tracking the in-use emissions from vehicles. Beginning in model year 1996, EPA will adopt comprehensive changes in line with the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to better prevent the sale of vehicles that in use fail to meet emission standards, and to better identify those already sold, the Administrator, EPA, should change the method for determining deterioration rates of emission systems to include the use of actual data from in-use vehicles to provide more accurate forecasts of whether vehicles will meet emission standards throughout their useful life.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Clean Air Act amendments that were enacted 6 months after the report delegated the requirements called for in the recommendation to the states. Therefore, the recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that state inspection and maintenance programs are operating effectively and in compliance with their state plans for achieving air quality standards, the Administrator, EPA, should ensure that program results are compared to minimum emission reduction requirements by conducting effectiveness measurements of inspection and maintenance programs periodically.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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