Thursday , September 08, 2016 - 5:30 AM12 comments
OGDEN — A public hearing on a proposed diesel emissions testing rule for Weber County saw modest attendance Wednesday, mostly turning out citizens voicing support of the measure.
Of the 18 commenters at the hearing, 15 spoke in favor of testing diesel vehicles to help improve the county’s air quality. Most said the issue is a matter of fairness, since gas-powered vehicles have emissions test requirements. Most also said a diesel program was a small step in the direction of improved air along the Wasatch Front.
“This isn’t a cure-all for all our ills pertaining to air quality, but small actions add up,” said Amy Wicks, a former Ogden City council member. “I don’t think there’s any reason to exclude diesels from emissions testing.”
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The Weber-Morgan board of health is currently considering a regulation that would require emissions tests for diesel-powered vehicles model years 1998 and newer, weighing 14,000 pounds or less. All tests would be conducted at existing emissions shops.
Shop technicians would plug into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system to collect emissions data instead of directly measuring particulate coming from the tailpipe. The tests would also include a visual inspection for tampering.
Jennifer Bodine, sustainability specialist at Weber State, addressed some common criticisms of the proposed rule during the comment period.
One of those arguments against diesel emissions testing is that it creates a de facto tax on diesel owners, who have to pay around $30 for the test before they can register their vehicles. Bodine said the test isn’t a tax, it’s a way of making sure vehicle owners are accountable for their pollution. That pollution takes a toll on the population at large.
“Diesel owners are currently free-riding, they are emitting pollution to our air and the rest of us that breathe the pollution are paying the price,” she said. “In other words, we as citizens are currently being taxed so diesel owners can enjoy their vehicles without paying the full and true cost of ownership.”
Bodine also addressed concerns about tampering. Some diesel owners install defeat devices on their emissions controls, which they can disable when it comes time for an emissions tests and re-activate as they roll out of the testing facility parking lot. Some argue this makes an emissions program pointless.
“My response to that is, in accordance with this line of thinking, we should abandon all laws and policies because there will always be folks who try to break those rules and polices,” she said. “This program will likely catch and fix several unknowingly non-compliant vehicles, and for those who are willfully non-compliant, that’s an opportunity to educate those owners on the negative impacts they are having on their friends and neighbors and the fines they may incur if they are caught.”
Diesel vehicle tampering was a sore spot for many of the public hearing commenters, with cyclists complaining about burning lungs after trucks intentionally blow smoke.
John Kelly, a professor of automotive technology at Weber State, spoke in favor of a diesel rule that would help catch those coal-rollers. Tampering with emissions controls violates the federal Clean Air Act.
“If someone came up to you in this room and blew black particulate matter in your face, would you think that was funny? Or would you feel assaulted?” he said. “For those who choose to remove those devices, they’re breaking the law. We need to bring that under control.”
One commenter, Gavin Harder, spoke against any diesel testing requirements. He said he’s worked in the diesel industry for 10 years and most vehicles fail emissions tests because of built-up soot in the tailpipe. In counties where diesel emissions is required, they haven’t measured a significant improvement in air quality either, he said.
“I own two diesel vehicles and was tired of going and playing the game down at Davis County,” Harder said. “I moved (to Weber County) just to get away from it, because my vehicles don’t pollute any more than they were designed to from the factory. They met emissions (requirements) back in the day.”
Two commenters seemed to be confused about the scope of the proposed rule. Both diesel vehicle owners, they said they didn’t want to be wrongfully reported by people with a diesel vendetta and forced to get a test.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department has an existing policy for the public to report smoke-blowing vehicles. The department requires evidence of the smoke, through a photo or video, or two independent complaints before they require a test. The Utah Legislature also approved a rule allowing counties to revoke registrations for smoking vehicles last year.
The proposed emissions testing rule does not address smoking vehicle complaints. A copy of the draft regulation is available on the health department website.
In addition to the 18 comments at the hearing, the Weber-Morgan Health Department has received 97 written comments. Weber County residents can still submit written comments until 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22. Comments go to Scott Braeden, air quality program manager, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org — or in person and by mail to the health department’s Environmental Health section at 477 23rd St., Ogden.
The health board is set to vote on the diesel emissions rule at its next regular meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26.
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