A bill that would have released Canyon County from requiring citizens to undergo mandatory emissions testings for their vehicles was killed in the House Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee Wednesday. Committee chairman Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, cast the deciding vote against the bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa.
Kren's bill would have allowed the county in southwestern Idaho more leniency under current environmental code. Kren argued that a law enacted by the Legislature two years ago is too restrictive and doesn't allow the county adequate flexibility in dealing with air quality standards. He said that the requirements "tie the hands" of county commissioners to emissions testing. He said that he feels there are other viable other options to aid in the improvement of air quality.
The bill would have also raised the percentage at which the state would be declared at "non-obtainment," which would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and regulate emissions control efforts in the county. Standards sit at 85 percent, which would have been raised to 90 percent under Kren's plan. He said that air quality in the Treasure Valley is improving, so the Canyon County should have flexibility in air quality standards as well.
Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, questioned Kren's claim that air quality is improving. Kren replied that in 2009, the measurements used to determine air quality status were down across the board and significantly down from the three-year rolling average used to compute overall air quality.
Cronin continued to question Kren's claim, asking why he thinks air quality is improving.
Kren said that he people are driving less, which Cronin agreed with, but expressed concern that driving might increase when the economy rebounds, which would again threaten the county's air quality.
Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, agreed with Kren, saying that tests are "inconvenient" for county residents and that as the auto fleet in the country is modernized, air quality will improve substantially.
Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who helped to craft the original emissions legislation, urged lawmakers to let the process work. Anderson said he and fellow legislators at the time left the program open to changes after a five-year period. He said committee members should be patient and trust the process.
"We were very deliberative," said Anderson. "I am willing to see this process through."
Several interests stepped up to testify against the measure during the lengthy hearing. Roy Garrett, representing Amalgamated Sugar, which has a processing plant in Nampa, said the company he represents wants everyone in the community to do their fair share to help improve air quality.
"We think it’s fair and appropriate to let the act work," said Garrett. He noted that the company has spent more than $20 million in the past four years to retrofits its Nampa plant with pollution control technologies.
Toni Hardesty, director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said her department feels the program enacted by the Legislature two years ago is the right plan to address environmental hazards. She said Kren's claim that the air quality in the valley is improving is accurate, but warned the improvements are based on ever-changing variables, such as weather conditions. The valley experienced a summer in 2009 with fewer high-temperature days than normal, which resulted in less pollution, said Hardesty. She stated that it would be bad judgment for lawmakers to set policy on one summer of good weather because of varying trends in weather patterns.
After nearly two hours of discussion of the issue, Anderson, tired of debating the measure, said, "If we have too much more debate on this, air quality is going to improve because I’m going to quit breathing," and then motioned to hold the bill in committee. Anderson's motion was approved on a 6-5 vote by lawmakers.