City exhausts ideas to test auto emissions | AspenTimes.com

City exhausts ideas to test auto emissions

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen isn’t prepared to stick a probe in people’s tailpipes.

But, Pitkin County should continue the practice, according to the Aspen City Council.

The city will ask the county to reconsider its decision to cease testing auto emissions, but council members concluded Monday that it’s not feasible for the city alone to require the tests.

“We are somewhat crippled because we need the county,” said Councilman Terry Paulson, who pushed the city to take up the testing after county commissioners killed the program earlier this month.

Paulson said he’s optimistic the county will rethink its decision, but Mayor Helen Klanderud suspects the days of exhaust evaluation are probably over.

The council debated the merits of starting its own program, catching only those vehicles registered in Aspen, but ultimately agreed a city-only program is unfeasible.

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First, it would require approval by the state Legislature, and the city would have to commit to running the testing program for at least five years, said Lee Cassin, Aspen’s environmental health director.

“And, it’s very doubtful that Aspen’s population would support two or even one testing station,” she said. “There are some practical reasons why it might not be possible to do it in the city.”

Fewer than one-third of the vehicles tested in the county program were registered within the city, according to Cassin.

The city could require the testing not only of Aspenites, but of anyone who drives a vehicle into the city more than 90 days per year, but no one is sure how to snag commuters into the testing net.

Without any data on carbon monoxide levels in Aspen, Klanderud said she’d have trouble requiring testing within the city. There’d be no baseline data to determine whether or not the effort was making a difference, she said.

On the other hand, according to last year’s testing results in the county, of the 4,265 vehicles that were checked, 430 failed initially. Only 69 failed the retest; the rest were presumably adjusted and became cleaner-operating vehicles. Six failing vehicles ultimately received waivers.

“If we are getting dirty cars to be clean cars, that’s good,” Klanderud said.

“Our air quality is something that’s extremely important to preserve,” she said. “It sounds right: You do emissions testing, cars clean up and you have cleaner air. But how do we know? We haven’t been monitoring it.”

The county voluntarily implemented the program in 1989, checking carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions. Private businesses actually conducted the tests. Owners of newer vehicles paid $25 for a test every other year; older vehicles had to be tested annually, but the fee was $15.

Commissioners who voted to kill the program cited waning public support for the effort and their frustration with the number of untested vehicles driving to and from the upper valley each day.

The city had offered to pay for air monitoring if the county would continue the program, in order to provide some current data before pulling the plug on the testing, but commissioners voted 3-2 to do away with it.

City staffers have been directed to explore what other steps Aspen could take regarding emissions.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will be seeking help from upvalley governments on Thursday to help purchase 10 new buses to replace some of the oldest, dirtiest ones in the fleet.

“It would be to our benefit to approve that,” Klanderud said.

RFTA may also be asked to resume opacity testing on its buses. An opacity meter measures the density of the diesel exhaust, but not its composition, according to Kenny Osier, RFTA director of maintenance.

The transit agency stopped doing the tests because, as it updated its fleet, its buses began passing by a wide margin. The worst buses in the fleet register in the 20 percent range; the state standard is 40 percent opacity ” a level Osier described as “really dark, nasty, belching smoke.”

The cleanest buses in the RFTA fleet register in the 8 to 12 percent range, he said.

“We still run some 20-year-old buses,” Osier said. “If you want to do something that does something, get those old buses off the road.”

A new, clean-burning diesel bus represents an 80 percent improvement in emissions, compared to RFTA’s oldest buses, he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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