A mandatory vehicle emissions testing program in Cache County is increasingly looking certain.
The Cache County Council is now formally pursuing the measure, and a working group — composed of representatives from the county, Bear River Health Department and the Utah Division of Air Quality, as well as an average resident — held its first meeting Wednesday to begin hammering out how the program will function.
“Basically, we were just talking about how we do that implementation, and we talked about what would be some of the characteristics of the emissions program,” said County Councilman Craig Petersen, who is a member of the group and also sits on the state’s air quality board. “And quite frankly, what we’re thinking about right now — at least in that meeting — is that we might actually delegate the program to the (Bear River Health Department). ... You know, they’d be the managers of the program.”
Petersen added that “in most other places, this is done by health departments.”
Though the council must formally sign off on such a program, county officials feel their hands are tied, according to Petersen.
“If an emissions testing program is to be implemented, state statute gives that authority to the County Council,” he said. “So we’re the ones that have the authority to implement it. But we feel like we have to implement it in order for the SIP (State Implementation Plan) to be acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency.”
In December 2009, Cache and Franklin counties were officially designated a single “non-attainment” area by the EPA for violating a federal air quality standard related to PM 2.5 pollution.
In 2006, the EPA toughened the 24-hour PM 2.5 standard, changing it from 65 micrograms per cubic meter to 35 micrograms per cubic meter — a move that factored into the valley’s non-attainment status.
Asked why he believes the EPA would not approve the SIP without the inclusion of an emissions testing program, Petersen responded, “Because we have to demonstrate measures that’ll bring us in compliance, and that’s kind of a centerpiece. That’s one of the main pieces that would bring us toward compliance.”
Petersen said he’s confident there are enough votes on the council to approve such a program.
“We all kind of grumble about it, but I think we recognize that the handwriting is on the wall and we have to do this,” he said. “I’ll vote for it on the grounds that I think we’re obligated to do this, (due to) the SIP and the EPA.”
Petersen added that without implementing emissions testing, the county runs the risk of losing federal transportation dollars and having the EPA impose air quality improvement measures.
“Some places have ... set the fees high enough to generate additional revenues to subsidize other programs,” Petersen said. “The County Council will not do this. There won’t be any fee charged above what’s necessary simply to pay the cost of the program.”
He added, “Secondly, our objective is to make this as inexpensive and convenient for the public as we possibly can. We’ve talked about that from day one.”
The council is operating under the notion that an ordinance implementing a vehicle emissions testing program needs to be passed by mid-August, according to Petersen. He added, however, that the details of the program “probably don’t have to be finalized” until perhaps early November.
The state air quality board will begin examining the SIP at its September meeting, Petersen said.