EPA's Ann Arbor test lab threatened; emission tests in the balance


The White House, Washington, D.C.  [Creative Commons license by dcjohn]

The 436 scientists who spend their days testing new vehicles and enforcing environmental rules at the National Fuel Emissions Lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan, face a very uncertain future.

The lab sits in the crosshairs of President Trump's proposed budget, which eliminates 99 percent of its funding, as part of a 31-percent cut to the overall Environmental Protection Agency budget.

But according to E&E News, so far the lab itself has had little success in finding champions to defend it from the administration's plan to slash EPA operations. 

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To date, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell [D-MI], has been the sole politician to come to the facility's defense.

"This is a national treasure in Ann Arbor," she said at a rally in support of the facility, "and we will not let them destroy it."

The lab is crucial to the EPA's efforts to curb greenhouse gasses by curbing emissions from vehicles, famously pushing automakers to develop new technologies to help improve air quality.

2013 Smart Electric Drive Coupe, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Aug 2013

2013 Smart Electric Drive Coupe, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Aug 2013

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Workers there certify some 4,500 engines and vehicles per year, and every vehicle sold in the United States must first pass muster in Ann Arbor.

The lab tests a portion of the new vehicles sold each year, and certifies results submitted by carmakers for the others.

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President Trump's proposed budget could put its ability to certify new cars as legal in jeopardy.

The budget plans to shift the costs of funding the lab to automakers, which would be forced to pay at least twice their current annual fees of $20 million to make up the funding shortfall.

2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 on a dyno

2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 on a dyno

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So far, no automaker has stepped forward to denounce the president's plan, potentially because doing so may signal that they see it as important—and hence willing to pay for its operations.

E&E News reports that the lab is funded through the rest of the year.

Dingell is currently working to build support for the lab and its work through meetings with other lawmakers.

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Separately, a group of past and present EPA workers has formed to voice concerns about the agency's future.

While the president's proposed budget will not pass in its current form, it's "directional," meaning it indicates the administration's priorities for the future.

Meanwhile, there's some indication that Trump may see considerable pushback on his budget proposals.

2015 Honda Fit, test drive around Ann Arbor, Michigan, Apr 2014

2015 Honda Fit, test drive around Ann Arbor, Michigan, Apr 2014

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According to media reports, both sides of the Congressional aisle are unwilling to embrace many of the elements in the president's budget proposal.

That means that while the lab's future is uncertain, it may remain that way for some time to come.

[hat tip: Jamie Kitman]

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