JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri air regulators on Thursday voted to strip Jefferson and Franklin counties from the St. Louis area's vehicle emissions testing program — but motorists living in the two counties won't see an immediate reprieve from the inspections.
That's because the plan now moves to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for consideration. The federal agency will likely take many months to evaluate the state's plan through a public comment process, said Darcy Bybee, director of the state's air pollution control program.
Under the plan, the city of St. Louis plus St. Louis and St. Charles counties would remain part of the Gateway Vehicle Inspection Program.
The Missouri Air Conservation Commission on Thursday also moved to scrap cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline requirements for the entire St. Louis region, a move that also requires the EPA's approval.
Department of Natural Resources officials say the two pollution controls aren't necessary for Missouri to meet its obligations under the federal Clean Air Act.
Department staff recommended the two changes to the air commission Thursday for approval.
The four Republicans on the panel voted to approve the measure; the lone Democrat was absent. There are two vacancies, which Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has the authority to fill.
None of the four commissioners voting on the DNR's plans Thursday lives in the St. Louis area — something that drew scorn from John Hickey, director of the state's Sierra Club chapter.
"Gov. Parson has refused to appoint anybody from the St. Louis area to this commission to protect local public health," Hickey said. "The governor has some questions to answer."
A spokeswoman for Parson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because of high ozone levels, the St. Louis region is the only area in Missouri where emissions testing is required. Automobiles are the largest source of the chemicals that form ozone, but factories, utilities, the petroleum industry and industrial solvents also contribute.
Ozone is a respiratory irritant that can cause health problems, especially for children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung diseases.
Air quality in the St. Louis region improved from an average of 30.3 days of poor air quality a year from 2009-2011 to an average of 14.0 days a year in 2016-2018, according to the EPA.
Bybee said several factors, including the Gateway Vehicle Inspection Program, have contributed to the decrease.
"The St. Louis area has a lot of requirements on the books due to their long-term non-attainment," she said, "so I would say that it is a combined effort of a lot of different things."
The department has so far not offered any pollution controls to replace the reformulated gasoline and vehicle emissions changes.