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Idaho lawmaker panel OKs bill to end vehicle emissions tests

The current state law only requires emission testing in regions where air pollution from vehicles is already approaching federal limits, including Ada and Canyon.
Credit: KTVB

BOISE, Idaho — A bill that would eliminate vehicle emissions testing in Idaho’s most populated region was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The bill from Meridian Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog would eliminate the emission testing requirements for two counties in southwestern Idaho in the summer of 2023, but leave the door open for regions to create air quality commissions and take other actions if pollution levels are deemed too high. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Vehicles are one of the largest contributors to air pollution nationwide, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The current state law only requires emission testing in regions where air pollution from vehicles is already approaching federal limits. In Idaho, that currently includes Ada and Canyon Counties — the relatively population-dense southwestern corner of the state that includes the cities of Boise, Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell.

Agricultural vehicles like farm trucks and tractors are exempt, as are vehicles that are less than five years old, classic automobiles and electric or hybrid vehicles.

Den Hartog told the Transportation Committee that portions of the emissions testing law can be repealed now, “because we’ve done a great job here in Ada County improving our air quality.”

That’s partly because more older, high-emissions cars have left the roads in favor of newer, lower-emissions vehicles, she said. Other cars with emissions problems have been fixed because of the testing program, and industries in the region have taken steps to lower the amount of air pollution they add to the region’s air shed, Den Hartog said.

The bill would require the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to annually review whether areas in the state are getting too close to the federal air pollution limits — a level currently set at 85% or above the federal ceiling for ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and lead.

The Boise region’s air pollution levels for ozone are still at or above 85%, said Tiffany Floyd, an air quality administrator with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. But roughly 97% of vehicles are passing emissions tests, so there may need to be efforts to target other sources of air pollution like encouraging residents to swap out wood stoves for other heating devices, she said.

John Oppenheimer with the Idaho Conservation League urged the committee to reject the bill, saying it was too early to lift the emissions testing requirements. He said the Legislature should first ensure there is infrastructure statewide to support things like electric vehicles.

“While we recognize that there has certainly been forward progress ... it’s premature to remove some of these requirements,” Oppenheimer said, noting that the bill relies on findings from a DEQ study that has not yet been made public.

The committee agreed on a voice vote to send the bill to the Senate with a “do pass” recommendation.

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