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Emissions testing could end in state _ except in bay area

Officials are considering making Tampa Bay standards stricter than they are now.

Federal officials appear ready to let the state end vehicle emissions testing all over Florida _ except in the Tampa Bay area.

State officials say the staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended granting their request to end the checks in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval counties.

That would leave emissions testing only for motorists in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, where air monitors continue to register high levels of ozone, a precursor to smog, which causes respiratory problems for children and the elderly and harms plants and marine life.

Top EPA officials must approve the draft recommendation to eliminate Duval and the South Florida counties from the emissions testing program. If they do, that will clear the way for the state Legislature to do away with the program in the four counties at its session beginning next month.

State officials say they may seek to expand testing in the Tampa Bay area, adding counties such as Pasco and Manatee and possibly adding a new, more expensive test.

In the past three years, Florida's air quality has gotten worse, primarily because of rising levels of nitrogen oxide, which has been attributed to increased traffic as well as emissions from coal-fired power plants such as the ones Tampa Electric Co. operates.

Yet Florida never has tested autos for nitrogen oxide emissions, only for carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. State officials say they might need to begin testing Tampa Bay's cars and trucks for nitrogen oxide too. They also have talked of imposing nitrogen oxide tests on vehicles in Escambia County in the state's Panhandle, which suffers from the worst ozone pollution in the state.

The EPA must approve changes in the state's air-pollution control program because the agency can shut off millions of dollars in federal highway funds if the state fails to follow an approved clean-air plan.

State Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, who has introduced a bill to end the tests, said the EPA's decision would make it easier to persuade legislators to pass the bill.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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