Air Board Blows Off Emission Test Change for Six Months

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The Ada County Air Quality Board is taking a “wait and see” approach to changing who runs its vehicle emissions testing program, but will consider other moves to reduce prices and limit the number of test stations.

Board members voted today to wait at least six months before they look into handing over testing to SysTech International—a Utah corporation that will begin running Canyon County’s new emissions program on June 1.

In the meantime, the board is planning a public hearing on lowering the $20 maximum price for emissions tests (a move prompted by board member and Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman), and setting a cap on the number of testing stations it will allow in the county.

David Zaremba, outgoing board chairman and Meridian City Council vice president, said because the current system works and the county isn’t under any regulatory pressure to change its program, it should look to Canyon County as a test case for how SysTech operates.

“We have a good system. We are satisfying DEQ and being proactive about what satisfies the EPA,” he said. “We do need to consider what is going to happen in Canyon County.”

For the past 26 years, Ada County has relied on dozens of independent testing businesses—often in the form of red vans—to keep vehicle emissions in check. Test prices are capped at $20, and testing in Ada County became bi-ennial on January 1.

In neighboring Canyon County, officials have for years refused to institute a system for vehicle testing. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality stepped in earlier this year to enforce a testing regime, and selected SysTech to operate it.

Under the contract between DEQ and SysTech, the company would charge no more than $11 per test at existing businesses like mechanics and lube shops. DEQ would get $3, with the remainder pocketed by SysTech and the station operator.

Recognizing a potential taxpayer savings of $9 per test, Ada County officials and area cities had been considering a move from the “red vans” to SysTech, prompting a wave of anger among station owners who feared the switch would run them out of business.

The Air Quality Board’s decision to hold off for six months was viewed as a “reprieve” by station owners like Ed White, who runs the Stop’n’Go on Emerald and Orchard. But he and others don’t think that’s enough time for SysTech to make its case.

“It’ll only give you a two month operational window to see how SysTech does out in Canyon County,” White said.

“That’s not nearly a long enough time to evaluate the quality of their program,” added Tara Parker, owner of High Desert Air on South Federal Way.

Matthew Hanson, a 27-year-old law student at University of Idaho, provided testimony for the station owners at the board meeting. With 14 years in the emissions technician field, he touted the current program’s convenience, and said keeping tests in the hands of private operators encourages competition and drives down prices.

“At the end of the day it’s a program that’s not broken. Don’t fix it,” he said.

He was happy about the board’s decision to take its time analyzing SysTech’s model, but disappointed that the $20 price ceiling may be reduced.

“Lowering the maximum price is a benefit for the customers, but comes as a drawback for the convenience—there will definitely be fewer stations because of that,” he said. “Some of these owners are barely hanging on as it is.”

The next meeting of the Ada County Air Quality Board will be held on April 26 at 1 p.m. The location has yet to be determined.

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