Cache County officials on Wednesday night got a face-to-face meeting with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert regarding their concerns over the concept of vehicle emissions testing.
The measure has been included in a draft of the state implementation plan, or SIP, for the county and has been a point of contention between the legal staffs advising the county and the Utah Division of Air Quality. Herbert encouraged county officials, state lawmakers representing the valley and state air quality personnel to “think positively” and search for an amicable solution.
Herbert called the issue “deja vu all over again for me,” referencing a quote by baseball great Yogi Berra.
“When I was a county commissioner, as you recall, Utah County had the same situation regarding emissions,” Herbert said. “And the EPA said, ‘You’ve got to choose from the menu on column left,’ and we didn’t want to choose that menu. We thought there was another way to do it, so this is vaguely familiar to me.”
County Executive Lynn Lemon explained his take on the current circumstances to Herbert.
“In general, I think we were moving forward with the idea that we would implement a vehicle emissions testing program,” Lemon said.
He added, “When we became aware of the fact that the emissions program would only reduce NOx (oxides of nitrogen) by less than 5 percent; it would only reduce VOCs (volatile organic compounds) by less than 6 percent ... that became a major stumbling block for us because of the cost.”
Don Linton, chief deputy Cache County attorney, also shared his interpretation of a couple of statutes from state code that deal with the topic.
The Cache County Attorney’s Office contends the state’s air quality board does not have the authority to include emissions testing in a proposed state implementation plan without the county’s consent. However, DAQ officials have said the Utah Attorney General’s Office advised them differently.
“To say, ‘Well, OK, we’re going to ignore that requirement. We’re not going to reach an agreement. We’re just going to put it in the SIP, send it back. It will have the force of federal law, and you’ll be required to do it’ ... seems to defeat what I suggest is apparent based on both statutes — and that’s the legislative intent to reach a consensus with the county, rather than to force this thing upon the county,” Linton said.
On Wednesday, Herbert communicated to county officials that he understands their concerns and that the state is willing to listen to potential alternatives to emissions testing.
“I get it. I understand you guys don’t like this; you don’t want it mandated to you,” Herbert said. “You think there’s a better way to do it than what’s being proposed. If there’s a better way to do it, then I’m with you. Why would we not want to do it? So let’s just hear what those ways are. So tell me what you want me to hear.”
County Councilman Craig Petersen, who also serves on the state’s air quality board, proposed an alternative to emissions testing Wednesday night. He said that remote sensing technology should be used to identify high-emitting vehicles on the county’s roads.
“This technology has evolved to the point where this is a proven technology that is being used in other areas,” reads a portion of Petersen’s written proposal.
According to Petersen, sensors would only be employed “during bad air days,” meaning the measure would be “less labor intensive” and more cost-effective than emissions testing.
“When you identify a polluter, that person is given a warning the first time and required that they have to clean up their vehicle. If they’re cited a second time during the red air days, then they’re fined,” Petersen said. “But the advantage of it is that you not only pick out those people, but also people who know they’re driving bad cars are going to be less likely to drive their cars on those days. So there’s a natural selection process on this.”
Petersen added, “The advantage of remote sensing is you can (identify) a car regardless of how old it is, what its fuel type is, where it’s registered. So you get everybody; you get all the polluters.”
He believes implementing the strategy would result in the county and the state being “viewed as innovators in air quality control,” and if successful, could benefit other counties and states — an advantage outlined in the proposal.
Bryce Bird, the director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, has said recently that if emissions testing is not required in the document that will be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency in December, then another strategy would have to be proposed. It would be required to result in the reduction of at least 0.46 tons of precursors to PM 2.5 pollution on a typical winter day.
Petersen said Wednesday that while he “can’t quantify off the top that it would meet the ... .46 tons per day,” he does believe the strategy “would be significant” in terms of emissions reduction.
“It imposes the cost on the people who are creating the problem, the polluters, not the general public,” he said.
Responding to Petersen’s proposal, Herbert called it “an idea that’s worth discussion.”
“I’m sure there are pros and cons, but we ought to be able to sit down and reason together and see if in fact the cost to the benefit actually gives us clean air and is something that we are willing to step up and pay for — when I say we, the people of Cache,” Herbert said.
The Cache County Council will be conducting a public hearing Oct. 9 to hear local residents’ ideas on alternatives to emissions testing.
“I think there are a number of other things that we’ll probably hear about that we ought to give serious consideration to,” said Lemon.
Herbert noted there is not much time left to come up with other options, and he implored county officials and state air quality representatives to move with urgency in continuing to discuss the issue, while being mindful of the “hammer” of the EPA.
“The Congress has given to the EPA significant teeth to bite us in the behind if we don’t comply with the reductions that are necessary to comply with the ... Clean Air Act,” Herbert said. “And so if we can find a better alternative, why would we not all be in agreement with that?”
Herbert added, “But at the same time, we’ve got to do something, or else it will not only hurt Cache Valley; it’ll hurt other parts of the state when it comes to our ability to expand economically. So that can’t happen either. So let’s find the way that we can all come to consensus and agreement.”