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Idaho: County Government Revolts Against Emissions Testing

February 26, 2010

Idaho: County Government Revolts Against Emissions Testing
Canyon County, Idaho officials use civil disobedience to fight imposition of emissions testing. 

DEQ  Director Toni HardestyCounty commissioners in Canyon County, Idaho are fighting back against a state attempt to impose vehicle emissions testing. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Toni Hardesty set up a program where vehicle owners must drive to a testing center and pay $11 to have their vehicle examined for excess emissions. The plan, which takes effect June 1, is meant to address “air quality” problems in the area. Commissioners announced their intention to use the county’s fleet of 200 cars as leverage against state officials.

“When the DEQ’s vehicle inspection and maintenance program is operational, none of those vehicles will be submitted for testing,” Commissioner Steve Rule said at a press conference. “Our hope is that through this small act of civil disobedience, we might finally attract the attention of Director Hardesty, and secure a voice in decisions that affect all of us.”

Rule complained that Hardesty, an unelected official, decided to impose the plan on her own authority without consulting either the public or the area’s elected representatives. He also accused the department of manipulating air testing stations — one was placed near idling cars at an elementary schools — in order to make the air quality look worse.

“We have asked repeatedly, but DEQ has never provided us with valid, supportable science that emissions testing works, yet they plan to move ahead anyway,” Rule said. “We do not believe Director Hardesty and the DEQ considered the best interests of Canyon County when making this decision. Instead, we believe the decision was made solely on price. Each time a vehicle is tested, DEQ takes $3 of that testing fee for administration. That money should not go back to DEQ, but should go to a hardship fund to help Canyon County’s drivers repair their vehicles. The money should stay in the county where it was generated.”

In nearby Ada County, a total of just eight percent of cars failed the emissions test. Those who fail only have to produce a receipt showing that someone was paid to fix the problem, not evidence that the problem had actually been fixed. This means that 92,000 motorists would have to go through the regular hassle and expense, even though their cars are perfectly compliant.

The county commissioners in August had made a counter-proposal to the DEQ, offering to create a voluntary program that would devote $50,000 to a fund to help low-income motorists pay for any needed vehicle repairs. Hardesty summarily rejected the plan, insisting that the inspection program was the only viable alternative.

Yesterday, the state House Environment Committee voted to kill House Bill 591 which would have raised the standard required to trigger the forced inspection program, effectively exempting Canyon County from the testing requirement.

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