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Government & Politics  October 8, 2010

Ozone testing hits wall of resistance

A new ozone emissions testing program scheduled to go into effect later this fall is meeting some stiff resistance from local elected officials.

Both the Larimer and Weld county boards of county commissioners have fired off letters to Gov. Bill Ritter’s office asking that the program be postponed.

The commissioners’ letters cited a variety of reasons why they believed the program, which goes into effect in December, should be delayed until after the next Legislature is seated and can take another look at the program.

“We just think they’re not ready to go,´ said Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner. “The system is not ready to deal with the half-million vehicles that are going to be tested up here.”

The Denver metro area has tested vehicle emissions since 1981, in an effort to battle the city’s notorious Brown Cloud of particulates that briefly surpassed Los Angeles as the nation’s dirtiest air in 1979. Northern Colorado went off the state-mandated tailpipe emissions program in 2006 when local monitoring stations showed the region’s air quality was meeting federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

However, the EPA ruled that parts of the counties were not in compliance with the federal ground-level ozone standard between 2006 and 2009. Legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2009 called for an expansion of Denver’s ozone testing program into portions of Larimer and Weld counties.

Ozone is formed in the atmosphere by emissions from vehicles, industry and oil and gas production and is considered a health hazard, especially to those with reduced lung function.

Not cost-effective

Steve Johnson, Larimer County commissioner, said his board believes the testing program – which requires testing every two years for vehicles made in 1982 or later – is not cost-effective.

He said other strategies offered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment could have been better alternatives than the enhanced inspection and maintenance program adopted by the 2009 Legislature.

“It has the least impact on the air and the highest cost,” he said. “There’s eight others that show as much or better cost-benefit.”

Weld commissioner Conway said the program should be held off until after next month’s election.

“We’re not asking to indefinitely suspend the program but hold off till a new legislature and a new governor and potentially a new air quality director can look at this,” Conway said, noting that state Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, and state Rep. Glen Vaad, R-Mead, have vowed to introduce legislation in the next session to repeal ozone testing in both counties.

Gov. Ritter’s office has so far turned down requests from several Northern Colorado communities – including Greeley, Evans, Erie and Mead, according to Conway – to delay the program until next year.

The letter from Weld County commissioners notes that no Weld monitoring stations have been in violation of the ozone standard and only one Fort Collins-area station was briefly out of compliance.

“The board questions why residents of Weld County are being required to pay $2.20 per vehicle registration and $25 for testing when the majority of the Front Range is in compliance,” the letter says. “It is bad public policy to subject citizens to regulations and inconvenience when clearly there is no need.”

But Christopher Dann, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said federal standards are expected to soon become even tighter and that Northern Colorado drivers – particularly Denver-area commuters – are contributing to the Front Range ozone problem.

“Thousands of vehicles are commuting into the Denver metro area,” Dann said. “That’s why we can’t consider counties in a vacuum but as part of a region. Ozone is a regional pollutant and coming from sources throughout the region.”

Testing stations under construction

Meanwhile, work goes on by Connecticut-based Envirotest Systems Corp. to build four new testing stations in Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland and Dacono. Renee Allen, public information manager for the company, said the four new stations will join 14 others already in the Denver area and are expected to be ready to go by November.

Weld County’s letter to Ritter criticized the fact that Envirotest will receive a windfall from the inspection program. “The board believes it is bad public policy to mandate by law that citizens, through the payment of fees, fund the construction of buildings for a private company,” the letter said.

Allen said she couldn’t comment on how much Envirotest is spending to build the new stations but acknowledged it was “a considerable amount.”

Garry Kaufman, program manager for the state Air Pollution Control Division, said Envirotest – which has been doing emissions testing in the Denver region since 1994 – was the only bidder for the four-year enhanced inspection program in Larimer and Weld counties and will receive nearly all of the $25 inspection fee for those vehicles who must visit a testing station and about $24 of the fee for those vehicles that are tested by driving by one of the Envirotest mobile emissions stations.

Kaufman said he could not say why no other companies bid for the emissions testing expansion program. “I guess that’s a question for all the companies that didn’t bid,” he said. “We certainly put it out there for bid.”

Kaufman said providing the service is “a fairly specialized business” with only “a handful” of companies in the nation providing it.

But Kaufman did note that no state funds are going directly to Envirotest and its Air Care Colorado program. “They’re paid solely per test,” he said. “No funds are coming from the state to Envirotest.”

But local officials like Conway and Johnson remain adamant that the program – as it’s now set up – is inconvenient, expensive and not likely to be as effective as it could have been.

“What I have a problem with is being charged $25 and then going to an inspection station to find out my car is fine,´ said Johnson. “I’m against the extra hassle for my constituents. We all want clean air and this area is growing, we all know that. But we think this is a bureaucratic exercise that’s a waste of time and money.”

A new ozone emissions testing program scheduled to go into effect later this fall is meeting some stiff resistance from local elected officials.

Both the Larimer and Weld county boards of county commissioners have fired off letters to Gov. Bill Ritter’s office asking that the program be postponed.

The commissioners’ letters cited a variety of reasons why they believed the program, which goes into effect in December, should be delayed until after the next Legislature is seated and can take another look at the program.

“We just think they’re not ready to go,´ said Sean Conway, Weld County commissioner. “The…

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