RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- California on Thursday dedicated a new $419 million research facility that will allow state air quality regulators to expand emissions testing for heavy duty vehicles like trucks, buses and bulldozers.
The center in the city of Riverside will allow for more checks on the heavy vehicles in addition to the emission tests conducted on passenger cars. It replaces a nearly 50-year-old lab in nearby El Monte that state officials credited with helping to detect the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal.
Until now, heavy duty vehicles haven't been subject to the same level of scrutiny as passenger cars because of restrained capacity at the older lab, said Annette Hébert, deputy executive officer of the Southern California headquarters for the California Air Resources Board.
"As soon as I get my lab going, there are very specifically some heavy duty (vehicles) I want to look at," Hébert said. "Part of the reason I am concerned about heavy duty (vehicles) is because of our lack of capacity to help keep them in check."
The 402,000 square foot (37,347 square meter) facility will test emissions from cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, lawnmowers, marine engines and other vehicles. Its testing capacity will be twice that of the older lab for smaller vehicles such as passenger cars and six times more for heavy duty vehicles, including buses and off-road equipment, agency officials said.
In the future, Hébert said she hopes the facility will also conduct battery testing on electric vehicles to ensure they fulfill their life expectancy -- yet another way to encourage Californians to move toward cleaner transportation.
California, which is home to about 40 million people, has long been viewed as a leader on clean air regulations.
At a dedication event Thursday for the emissions testing center, local officials recalled growing up and living decades ago in a state where the skies were often too hazy to see nearby mountains and air quality warnings were commonplace -- something State Senator Richard Roth noted is no longer case in the Riverside County communities he represents.
"Obviously we have much much more work to do but what an amazing result," said Roth, a Democrat.
The state broke ground on the facility four years ago in the community 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. A third of the construction cost was covered by fines paid by Volkswagen in the cheating case, according to the agency, which oversees California air pollution control efforts.
Jared Blumenfeld, California's secretary for environmental protection, said the state continues to be seen as a leader on air pollution regulations and tackling climate change and it's no accident the Volkswagen emissions scandal was detected here.
"This is actually a building of resistance," he said. "This is about standing up and saying, 'We care. We're going to fund the things that show empirically how pollution enters the world, and we're going to hold polluters accountable.'"
Liane Randolph, who chairs the air resources board, said the facility will help shift transportation to zero-emission technologies and protect communities heavily impacted by emissions from heavy truck traffic and freight transport.
It's not clear when the center, which is named for former board chair Mary D. Nichols, will begin operating. The agency is currently wrapping up projects at the El Monte facility, said Lynda Lambert, an agency spokesperson.