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Attorney general�s office probes emissions testing program
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The attorney general�s office is investigating complaints about the state�s vehicle emissions testing program, prompted by service station owners who say it is inefficient and lacks proper oversight and enforcement.

Rhode Island uses Agbar Technologies, the same Chicago-based company that has come under scrutiny recently in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The emissions testing program in Massachusetts was almost shut down by the state�s Department of Environmental Protection because a recent audit found that the equipment used in testing cars gave false readings or didn�t work in 39 percent of the tests.

Rhode Island uses the same Agbar software and equipment as Massachusetts, but Rhode Island officials tell The Providence Journal the problems in Massachusetts are not happening here.

Officials at the Department of Motor Vehicles and at Agbar contend that the program is running smoothly in Rhode Island and is making a big difference in cutting auto emissions statewide.

�Our failure rate is right on target,� said John DiTomasso, Department of Motor Vehicles administrator. DiTomasso said that state data shows that cars have been failing 10 percent of the time -- the target rate it had assigned at the start of the program in 1999.

In Rhode Island, the testing equipment fails 13 percent of the time, according to DMV data.

However, the data, unlike the data on equipment failures in Massachusetts, were not compiled by an independent authority.

Agbar vice president Christopher Stock believes that Agbar is doing a good job of emissions testing while living up to its contractual obligations with the state.

Assistant Attorney General John Palangio, who heads the consumer protection division, is investigating station owners� complaints that they are being strong-armed by Agbar to pay for items they believe Agbar agreed to pay for. Station owners contend they were promised during an informational meeting in 1999 that they would not be responsible for the payment of property taxes on equipment that Agbar leases to inspection stations.

After meeting with station owners last month, Palangio decided to look at all aspects of the contractual obligations between Agbar and the station owners, said Michael Healey, spokesman for the attorney general�s office.

The scope of Palangio�s investigation does not end with contracts, Healey said.

�Clearly, given the potential of environmental repercussions, we are exploring having our environmental unit look at this,� said Healey. The result of the investigation will not be released until early next year, he said.

The investigation follows a recently released state audit on Agbar Technologies that found the contractor had failed to pay $23,040 into a state account from the funds it collects for emissions testing. Of the $47 that stations charge for biennial inspections, Agbar receives $13, and the rest is divided between the station owners and the state.

No in-depth study of the state�s air emissions testing program has been conducted in Rhode Island, as was done in Massachusetts.

The only oversight to the program are inspection-station audits and reports that are submitted to the state quarterly, according to Tom Letourneau, a former Agbar employee whose job it was to conduct audits on all of the state�s stations. Letourneau questions the quality of the reports that have been given to the state.

�Why should we believe that the tests being performed on Agbar equipment are correct?� Letourneau said about the reports that Agbar culls from stations.

In some cases, Letourneau said, Agbar withheld data from the state that pointed to the program�s inefficiency. For example, Letourneau said, Agbar has yet to give the state reports from 2000, the first year the program was operational.


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