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9,400 BernCo Diesel Owners to Get City Rebates

9,400 BernCo Diesel Owners to Get City Rebates

State law allows emission testing of vehicles equipped with a spark plug. Diesels use compression to ignite the diesel-air mixture

ABQ’s Illegal Emissions Testing Program to Be Scrapped

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

UPDATED: The City of Albuquerque said Thursday that it will give refunds to the owners of diesel-powered vehicles who paid for emissions test for their diesel cars and trucks under a testing program city officials belatedly realized was illegal.

About 9,400 tests of diesel-powered vehicles have been done under the illegal program that began on Jan. 1, 2013, said Danny Nevarez, deputy director for air quality with the city’s Environmental Health Department. That represents about 2,500 vehicles a year, of 1 percent of the 250,000 to 270,000 vehicles tested every year in Bernalillo County.

On Wednesday, the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board voted to hold a hearing later this year on whether to junk the diesel-testing program, which the city now says is illegal. A date for the hearing has not yet been set. The plan to roll back the illegal testing program was first reported by ABQ Free Press on Wednesday.

On May 23, the city petitioned the air quality board to repeal the diesel-testing effort, saying it was in violation of both city and state laws.

“A legal review has revealed that the diesel emissions test requirement exceeds state and local legal authority,” the city’s petition said.

Diesel vehicles weren’t included in the city’s original emissions testing program that began in the late 1980s. The Air Quality Control Board approved a requirement to test diesels every two years in October 2012, and the program went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. But the problem is that diesel vehicles aren’t included in the state’s air quality law, nor the city’s.

Both the city and state laws regarding emissions testing say that vehicles subject to emissions testing must be under 26,000 pounds and “powered by a spark-ignited internal combustion engine,” according to the city’s petition.

“Diesel engines are compression-ignited, not spark-ignited,” the petition said, adding, “the current diesel emissions test requirement conflicts with the State Air Quality Control Act and the City Motor Vehicle emissions Control Ordinance. In this petition, EHD [Environmental Health Department] proposes to remove the diesel emissions test requirement from the [emissions testing] program.”

The testing law requires owners to get their vehicles’ emissions tested every two years. At about $26 per test,  the minimum cost of the rebates to the city would be about $250,000. Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said the city should first return the money it wrongfully collected and then should work with the Legislature to write a diesel testing requirement into the state law that authorizes emissions testing in Bernalillo County.

“They’ve conditioned the community to get tested and to continue to drive cleaner vehicles,” Padilla said. “I don’t want to see the program to go away. They should work with the Legislature to add this component.”

Nevarez said diesel was added to the testing program because of a move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen air quality limits for ozone across the country. “Based on monitoring levels we were seeing, it was going to put us close to that [new] standard, and the parties were trying to act in good faith” in including diesel in the emissions testing program, Nevarez said. The EPA did implement the new ozone standard, Nevarez added.

While some have suggested that the emissions testing program is no longer needed because motor vehicles are much more technically advanced—and cleaner because of computer controlled fuel injection—that they were when the program began, Nevarez said that’s not the case.

Ten percent of all the vehicles tested in Bernalillo County each year fail their initial emissions test, Nevarez said.

Details of the rebate program will be worked out later this year after the air quality board junks the diesel testing program, Nevarez added.

Diesel owners who have questions about the proposed change can call 505-764-1110 for more information.

ABQ Free Press Editor Dan Vukelich contributed to this report.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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  • Pete Dinelli
    June 9, 2016, 7:57 am

    This is crazy and an obvious rip off by the City. One needs to question if there really is any need to continue with the vehicle emissions program at all given the technological advances made with new cars and emissions controls. Are City vehicle owners now dealing with an unnecessary expense to register their cars with the state? Albuquerque’s original vehicle emissions testing program began in 1987 when the Albuquerque City Council enacted the ordinance in response to the severe air pollution and health dangers that were going on at the time with vehicle carbon emissions. I was on the City Council and the ordinance passed unanimously with a bi-partisan vote. The reason for the emissions program was Albuquerque was suffering from a severe “brown cloud’” hovering over the City almost year round caused by car emissions. Catalytic converters were not as reliable or none existent in many older cars. The “brown cloud” of pollution got so severe the City use to put out health advisory’s and I recall even a “brown cloud” candle on top of the Landmark Apartment in uptown during the winter mot . After all these years of the program, you think the City would have caught the mistake with diesel engines.

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