Auto emissions stymie county |

Auto emissions stymie county

An effort by the Pitkin County commissioners to vote on a resolution to discontinue mandatory auto emissions tests sputtered and stalled yesterday.

The commissioners agreed to table the resolution until Jan. 28. They said they did not have sufficient information to make a decision and instructed their staff to submit a cost-analysis report on testing pollution levels in town.

In 1989, Pitkin County implemented mandatory tests for vehicles registered in the county. The tests check the carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions coming out of tailpipes. The tests cost vehicle owners $25 for cars built after 1982 and $15 for vehicles built before 1981.

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.

An informal survey by the county clerk’s office this year revealed that around 60 percent of residents oppose the tests.

As a result, the commissioners drafted a proposal to terminate the testing program. The action prompted Aspen City Council to pass a resolution urging the county to continue testing until carbon monoxide levels in town can be monitored.

Speaking at the meeting, Mayor Helen Klanderud said Aspen could pledge $5,000 for pollution testing.

“I’m concerned that we don’t have solid evidence of whether the inconvenience of emissions testing is worth it,” she said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper said because no carbon monoxide levels were recorded before mandatory emissions testing went in to effect, monitoring pollutants in town will do little to demonstrate the efficacy of the program.

“A number’s just a number,” she said. “There’s no baseline to judge the results. We want to see if the testing is doing a good job, but we have nothing to compare it to.”

Wayne Ethridge, who runs one of the garages that perform emissions tests, told the board that although only a small fraction of cars tested fail, catching those cars is important to the environment.

“We’ve chased a lot of really bad cars out of Pitkin County,” he said. “Without the testing program, we could not do that.”

Ethridge served as a Pitkin County commissioner when the emissions tests were established.

Commissioner Mick Ireland said the board should consider changing the testing program to make it more convenient for residents. He suggested a program where cars that meet emission requirements do not pay for the test, while cars that fail pay a penalty to cover the costs of testing compliant cars.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield was less concerned with the convenience of testing. He said environmental impacts should be the main concern of the board.

“The Earth is not going to do so well if we only do what’s convenient,” Hatfield said.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is]

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