CT Must Fix Emissions Program or Lose Funds

Tue September 21, 2004 - Northeast Edition
Stephen Singer - Associated Press

HARTFORD, CT (AP) As bludgeons go, the Federal Highway Administration used a pretty strong one to get Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s attention in the state’s struggle to resuscitate its vehicle emissions program.

The federal government recently reminded Rell that federal money is used to build highways and bridges, and help from Washington could end if Connecticut’s troubled vehicle emissions program is not operating.

Bradley Keazer, division administrator of the federal agency, specified two projects that could potentially lose funding — the $1-billion reconstruction of the Q Bridge in New Haven and the Route 7 Brookfield bypass project in Rell’s hometown.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter on Wednesday, Sept. 8. The next day, Rell announced that Chicago-based Agbar Technologies would be permitted to conduct two weeks of testing for the vehicle emissions program.

A spokesman for Rell on Friday, Sept. 10 referred questions about the letter to Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. Cooper said the Brookfield bypass and Q Bridge were cited because they are two “long-standing projects.”

Sanctions imposed by the federal agency for Connecticut’s failure to bring back its emissions program could cost the state $234 million a year for more than five dozen projects, said Cooper, who emphasized that such a loss is theoretical.

John Formosa, program manager for the federal highway agency’s office in Glastonbury, downplayed the letter as a “routine correspondence in an effort to motivate Connecticut to remain positively focused and demonstrate progress in bringing back the emissions program.”

He said the two projects cited in the letter were “examples of new starts” in highway construction. Both have been under construction for years, but are different from previous approvals such as safety projects, Formosa said.

Federal highway and environmental officials recently praised Rell’s Sept. 9 announcement authorizing trial tests of the state’s troubled emissions system.

The state faces an Oct. 1 deadline to develop a new two-year transportation plan that complies with the federal Clean Air Act. The 1990 law requires Connecticut and other Eastern states to have a vehicle emissions program in place.

“What we will be looking for is a subsequent announcement about when [Connecticut] will resume full testing,’ said David Conroy, manager of air quality planning at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston. “Before [Sept. 9], there was some uncertainty as to when the program will start.”

The state shut down the emissions testing program last April after audit findings that Agbar’s system had numerous technical problems that undermined its accuracy and integrity. The company sued, claiming the suspension was unwarranted.

Rell and Gary DeFillipo, Motor Vehicles commissioner, had halted the trial tests, which let Agbar try out new software at 13 service stations.