Last Thursday the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted 5-1 to exclude the Estes Valley from the current Front Range auto emissions testing program. Three commission members were absent.
Mr. Doug Decker from the Air Pollution Control Division described adding the Estes Park area as the “final expansion of the Northern Front Range program.” He presented a model of air flows from July 2, 2007 to demonstrate that air from the Estes valley flows to the Front Range and therefore contributes to regional air quality problems. Staff estimated that the program would reduce emissions by 36 tons per year. Staff’s cost estimate was that the costs of the program would be about 15 percent higher than the program for the rest of Larimer County and the Front Range testing area.
Mr. Decker conceded that the cost estimates had originally been based on a shorter “crow flies” distance between Estes Park and the Loveland inspection station. Still, Control Division staff did not propose any alternatives to fixed station testing, with the nearest testing station 35 miles or more by car from Estes Valley residents. “One trip every two years is not unreasonable,” said Mr. Decker, noting that many residents could combine that trip with shopping or other errands in the Front Range.
Mr. Decker also suggested that 22 to 25% of residents would be excused from fixed point testing due to road-side “clean screen” testing. Staff arranged for mobile testing to occur in Estes Park prior to the hearing. One Commissioner asked pointed questions about who funded clean screen testing in an area not yet subject to mandatory testing.
Questions from the Commission members suggested that they shared some of the same concerns as our local elected officials. In March 2010, the boundaries for mandatory testing excluded much of rural Weld County due to the distance to testing stations and small number of vehicles that were excluded.
Commissioners also challenged the contention that they had already decided to include Estes Park in the testing area. Senate Bill 09-003 directed the AQCC to consider exclusion of areas from testing based upon air quality control science, and the impact of testing upon the public.
During public comment, State Senator Kevin Lundberg directly challenged the contention that Estes Park was already included in the testing area. He explained that SB 09-003 only included Estes Park as a potential testing area. “It is up to you to decide.” said Senator Lundberg. Senator Lundberg explained his own experience with emissions testing. He sold a pickup to a Cheyenne buyer, knowing it would not pass emissions testing. He then purchased a used Suburban and had to undergo four tests before it passed. He urged the AQCC to make their decision “based on the people, not the sales pitch.”
Estes Park Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Levine and Trustee Mark Elrod both spoke against expanding the program to Estes Park. Trustee Elrod described the animated model of air flows as a “form of entertainment.” Mr. Decker later responded by explaining that the model was based upon meteorological data.
Lindsey Lamson of the Local Marketing District explained that their Board also opposed the expanded program. “The costs of the program outweigh the minuscule benefit.”
Public comment overwhelmingly opposed expanding the program to Estes Park. There were many telling comments. The testing would be especially burdensome for working people who would need to miss work without pay to be tested. Part-year residents would find it very difficult to comply when they were out of state. One resident challenged the use of July 2nd as the model. “July 2nd is the worst traffic in Estes Park. Most of us locals stay home on the July 4th weekend.” He also contended that a lot of part-year residents would simply register elsewhere.
One woman urged perspective. The 75 parts per billion standard involves tiny amounts. “One billion seconds is 32 years. It’s a matter of perspective and we’ve lost it.”
A local activist came to ask for emissions testing, then changed her mind. “I want emissions testing and I want clean air,” she said. But after hearing the public comments she decided to support the people in opposition to testing.
An editor of TeaLiberty.com presented official statistics demonstrating that Estes Park is very different from the Denver Metro area. Staff’s cost-benefit analysis used Denver metro driving data to support its benefit estimates. In the Estes Park zip code, 25.2% of residents are 65 years old or older. The statewide figure is 10.9%, meaning Estes Park has over 14% more senior drivers than the rest of Colorado. Federal Highway Administration data demonstrates that seniors drive only 57% as many miles as the average driver. In addition, commuters in the Estes Park zip code have commutes of 16 minutes, versus the Denver metro mean of 24.5 minutes. Even Estes Park’s working age population drives far fewer miles than the typical Denver metro resident.
County Commissioner Tom Donnelly then presented several arguments for excluding Estes Park from the testing area. Commissioner Donnelly’s statistical information echoed many of the public comments about the uniqueness of Estes compared to the Front Range. Commissioner Donnelly also explained the huge impact of tourist traffic on air quality during the summer.
Evelyn King of Citizens for Larimer and Weld County stressed that citizens do not object to programs that work. “We were deceived” when the program first started in 2007, since tens of millions of dollars have been spent on auto testing yet ozone readings are higher today, not lower. Ms. King submitted data demonstrating that the Front Range auto emissions testing program was expected to reduce ozone readings by 6/10ths of one percent. Estes Park was estimated to provide just 4/100ths of one percent of the total expected NOx reductions. “We thought the reductions for Larimer County were ridiculously small, but Estes Park is even worse,” said Ms. King. “It can’t possibly be measured.”
Commissioner comments and questions followed from many of the public comments. Commissioner John Loewy said “the Commission is a citizen overlay” intended to ensure that decisions are made by the citizenry rather than just a bureaucracy. Some commissioners expressed the wish that staff had presented more alternatives for implementing the program in mountain communities. There was some debate over whether the AQCC would have the existing authority to add Estes Park into the testing area in the future, or whether legislative action would be needed.
After some extended whispering among the commission members, the Commission adopted a motion to approve Larimer County and Estes Park’s suggested action: remove Estes Park from the testing area boundaries.
Tealiberty.com thanks Estes Park Tea Party Patriot supporters and other local citizens who attended the hearing. Public participation provided crucial support. Special thanks are also due to County Commissioner Tom Donnelly, who presented on behalf of the County Commission and the Town of Estes Park, and Evelyn King, who gave a presentation on behalf of Citizens of Larimer and Weld County. Several supporters of the citizens group came from Loveland and beyond to support the effort. Public comment and attendance was crucial in supporting Commissioner Donnelly’s presentation. Liberty groups should consider this a success for the movement toward government accountability and removing burdensome regulations that achieve little or no benefits.