County kills emission tests
February 12, 2004
The Pitkin County commissioners terminated mandatory auto emissions testing yesterday, a move which could cause a rift between city and county officials.
After nearly two hours of contentious debate, the commissioners voted 3-2 to discontinue the testing. The motion also asked the Aspen City Council to fund a two-year study of pollutant levels in Aspen, a move which infuriated Councilman Terry Paulson.
“This sets a dangerous precedent,” he said. “It shows that the county is not concerned about the environment while the city is.”
The city had volunteered $5,000 to monitor overall pollution levels in town, but on the understanding that the county would continue emissions enforcement while monitoring took place.
In 1989, Pitkin County implemented mandatory tests for carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions in vehicles registered in the county.
Since that time, public support for the tests has dwindled. All three testing centers are located at the Aspen Business Center, which midvalley county residents claim is an inconvenience. Many believe the tests to be ineffective, considering the high bulk of commuters from outside of Pitkin County. Both Garfield and Eagle counties do not require testing.
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The commissioners were frustrated by the lack of data regarding pollutants in town. The last comprehensive study was conducted 18 years ago. The commissioners disagreed on whether to continue testing until monitoring could be completed.
Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Shellie Roy and Patti Clapper believed that testing should be disbanded until pollution data could be collected in Aspen. Commissioners Mick Ireland and Jack Hatfield, who both vehemently opposed the motion, argued that emission testing should remain in place during the monitoring period.
“The burden of proof is on us to prove that emissions testing does or does not have an environmental impact,” Hatfield said. “Until monitoring can be done, we have to keep the emissions testing in place.”
Clapper argued the burden of enforcement should fall more on the city of Aspen. Clapper implored the City Council to make emissions testing mandatory for heavy construction vehicles, even if registered out of county.
While all cars with residential parking permits in Aspen currently must be tested, there are no emissions regulations on vehicles with other parking permits, such as construction permits.
“This is Aspen’s air,” Roy said to the chagrin of Hatfield and Ireland.
Regardless, it is now unclear how much cooperation the board will receive from the city. Paulson said that while he could not speak for the council, he was skeptical whether it would cooperate in funding a study of pollutant levels or enforce emissions testing on permit holders now that the county has discontinued its program.
[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]