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    PROGRAM'S CRITICS, SUPPORTERS AIR THEIR VIEWS AT PUBLIC EPA HEARING

    07/21/2000
    on 7/21/00.

    The lines of idling motorists have vanished.

    The doors of the buildings that look like giant, pastel Jiffy Lubes have been closed for three weeks.

    But more than 40 people showed up Thursday evening to either lambaste or laud Florida's defunct emissions inspection program.

    The 9-year-old program died on June 29 at the behest of Gov. Jeb Bush and state legislators.

    But a flood of written comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defending the annual tests prompted the agency to take the unusual step of scheduling a public hearing near West Palm Beach on the issue.

    "I personally would like to see this stay the way it is, gone forever," said Bryant Culpepper, a Palm Beach County resident, to EPA officials from Atlanta who ran the meeting.

    Although 32 state emissions stations have shut their doors, the state could risk loss of federal transportation money or other penalties if the EPA determines Florida cannot keep its air clean without tailpipe tests in the six counties that once required them.

    The EPA earlier this year preliminarily approved the state's intention to halt testing in Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Duval counties, but has yet to issue a final decision. State legislators killed the program in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, too.

    Some of those who spoke Thursday, including members of Citizens for a Sound
    Economy, emphasized that Florida motorists would save a combined $ 52 million in emissions fees and costs without the program.

    Kathy Evensen, a spokeswoman for South Florida's emissions test operator Envirotest technologies, said drivers will likely let their pollution-control equipment go bad without monitoring.

    Last year, 25,941 drivers were forced to repair their vehicles or junk their cars, according to the program's annual report.

    The EPA's Atlanta office will accept written comments through Aug. 4. The agency could issue a decision by September, said Winston Smith, director of its regional air division. Comments can be e-mailed to levasseur.joey@epa.gov.

    Neil Santaniello can be reached at nsantaniello@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6625.