Since the Treasure Valley would have to keep ozone levels below 65 parts per billion this summer – a nearly impossible task -- to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s new ozone standard the game’s over right?
Not necessarily, according to Toni Hardesty, Administrator of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. The Senate will vote this week on a new, expanded auto emissions testing program that would cover Ada and Canyon counties.
Hardesty told the Senate Environmental and Resources Committee Friday that such a program could be the anchor of proactive program negotiated with the EPA called an
Early Action Compact . Communities across the nation, which put in place enforceable plans to reduce ozone two years before the EPA’s deadline could get “nonattainment,” the costly ruling that a region had not met air standards, deferred.
EPA put this system in place after changing the ozone standard in 1997. It would have to come up with new deadlines and a new procedure to expand it this time. But communities like Austin, Texas, Denver and Farmington, New Mexico have signed up for compacts to prevent their industries and economy from facing the painful federal restrictions nonattainment brings.
The challenge is that the proactive plan has to show it will reverse the pollution trends that set a community on the path to nonattainment. It has to reduce the trips residents make, it has to put in place a plan to reduce volatile organic compounds such as vapor recovery systems for gasoline pumps. State programs must have enough teeth to be successful.
One of the centerpieces of these kind of programs is a voluntary program among a region’s major employers to reduce the number of car trips their employees make. This control measure makes a lot of sense since it is these employers who face the highest costs if the Treasure Valley goes into nonattainment. How high?
Amalgamated Sugar in Nampa paid nearly $20 million to dramatically reduce its air pollution in the last few years. Its lobbyist, Roy Eiguren, said nonattainment could force the company to face $15 million to $20 million in additional pollution reduction programs.
The threat of these kind of costs are an effective motivator to get the Treasure Valley’s industry leaders behind an efficient mass transit program that can move their employees and their families around the valley and keep air pollution below federal standards. But they will have to convince the Idaho Legislature its important enough to allow valley residents to increase their taxes to do it.
They might have an easier time asking lawmakers to give them a tax break to run their own transit programs.