Air Quality Board

We can probably all agree that we want clean air to breathe. How we achieve this worthy goal is subject to some difference of opinion, however.

On November 12, the Ada County Air Quality Board held a public hearing for the purpose of soliciting input on a proposal to change the vehicle emissions testing program.

Since my first term in office in 2001 and 2002, when I served my first stint on the Air Quality Board, I have been advocating we change the testing requirements to every other year and exempt new vehicles. According to information presented at Air Quality Board meetings, scientific studies have shown that reducing the frequency of tests will not have a significant adverse impact on our air quality. The same can be said for eliminating tests on new vehicles for the first four to five years, since they are not primary contributors to our periodic air quality problems.

Another proposed change to the Air Quality Board’s program that was discussed at the public hearing is to exempt vehicles that pre-date 1981. Right now, vehicles with model years that pre-date 1965 are exempt from testing requirements. The reasoning behind this “older car” exemption is twofold. First, relatively few of these vehicles remain on our roads but, more importantly, the emissions standards for them are not particularly strict so bringing them into compliance with those standards does not significantly improve our air quality.

As is often the case, this is a good news/bad news story. The good news is that the Air Quality Board is committed to decreasing the frequency of required testing. In other good news, Ada County air quality standards are currently being met. The bad news is that even as the frequency of required testing is being decreased, the maximum per test charge will likely be increased, over my objection, from $15 to $20.

Although $20 every other year is a decrease in price over $15 once a year on an annualized basis, for someone on a fixed income it is still a good chunk of money out of pocket all at one time.
In other bad news, it appears that some of the private owners and operators of the red vans and emission testing equipment, who have been our partners in this program for many years now, will end up being driven out of business by the program changes since their customer base will be cut by more than 50 percent.

This story might soon get even worse for these folks but a little rosier for vehicle owners. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is putting together a Request For Proposals (RFP) to solicit proposals from operators who are interested in implementing an emissions testing program in Canyon County. They are writing the RFP to provide for two possible alternatives: a Canyon County program or a consolidated Canyon and Ada County program.

The RFP will solicit proposals nationally, which could result in a program much like the one we currently have in Ada County with numerous testing sites spread out throughout the counties. If so, and all of these sites are owned by one operator, the cost to the public would likely be significantly reduced due to the economy of scale and the owner’s guaranteed customer base.

The RFP could also result in a different kind of testing program altogether, such as remote sensing, which would test vehicles as they are driven past specialized testing equipment. I would very much like to see a remote sensing emissions testing program, that would test all vehicles regardless of the residency of their owners, replace the individual testing program already in place.

On behalf of vehicle owners, I will continue to advocate for lower fees and less inconvenience in Ada County’s emissions testing program.

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