City may raise stink as Pitco mulls dropping auto emissions program |

City may raise stink as Pitco mulls dropping auto emissions program

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen’s director of environmental health has recommended Pitkin County monitor carbon monoxide levels for a winter before doing away with its auto emissions testing program.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the fate of the emissions testing on Wednesday. Tonight, the City Council will consider a resolution urging the county to retain the program, or to at least check carbon monoxide levels before eliminating the testing.

Pitkin County voluntarily implemented emissions testing in 1989 and is the only Western Slope county among 11 in Colorado that require it.

Front Range counties that conduct the testing were required to do so because they failed to meet federal clean-air standards, which was not the case here.

However, carbon monoxide in Aspen and Pitkin County hasn’t been monitored since the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director.

“It would be very useful for the county to know what carbon monoxide levels are before discontinuing the program,” she said in a memo to the City Council.

It is estimated that 20 percent of vehicles cause 80 percent of the carbon monoxide pollution that comes from automobiles, according to Cassin. The emissions testing catches those vehicles, many of which can be adjusted so they pass the test, she noted.

The average vehicle that fails its initial test, then is adjusted or repaired so it passes, sees an 84 percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions, Cassin reported.

In 2002, 4,660 vehicles in Pitkin County were tested; 565 of them failed. After repairs, 79 percent of them did pass the emissions test, according to Miles Stotts, deputy director of public works.

The state estimates a 16 percent improvement in carbon monoxide levels from the testing program, Cassin said.

One argument for doing away with the county program is the number of vehicles that go in and out of Aspen each day that are not tested because they are registered in another county.

Nonetheless, a number of those vehicles make local trips once they’re here, Cassin noted. In addition, the city requires the testing for anyone seeking a residential parking permit, so 500 to 600 vehicles that would not otherwise be tested each year have their emissions checked, she said.

Tests are required every two years for vehicles manufactured in 1982 or later. The fee is $25. A new vehicle is exempt for the first five years.

“Once a car reaches five years, let’s face it, it’s getting older and maybe it is starting to pollute,” said City Councilman Terry Paulson. “I think it’s valuable to check on that.”

Citizens may find the testing to be a hassle, but understand it’s worthwhile, Paulson contends.

“The city Environmental Health Department would argue that the ‘hassle’ of a test every two years is a reasonable price for citizens to pay … in order to protect Pitkin County’s environment and air quality,” Cassin said in her memo. “This program should continue at least unless the county determines carbon monoxide levels have dropped significantly.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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