City Government

Air Quality In The Eye (and lungs) Of Beholders

Two writers with opposing views on the air quality issue in the Treasure Valley asked to use the GUARDIAN as a discussion platform. Tim Kempf of Eagle is keenly interested in growth issues and fancies himself as using a scientific approach to issues. Michael Barnett of Nampa sees air quality as being somewhat stable, but the issue has become political and we citizens are victims of propaganda. Both views have interesting points and should offer plenty of stimulation for comments.

We present both views here and offer “further reading” from Barnett. His treatise is much too long to display on the page. Kempf won a coin toss and goes first.

In order to assess the air quality in the Treasure Valley one may rely on either of two methods-1) review the historical Air Quality Index (AQI) data that is available on the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality website, or 2) use the “If it quacks like a duck …” approach.

The first approach is very convincing as a simple plot of the data using the graph wizard with Microsoft Excel will show that the number of poor air quality days and the amount of pollution in our air is high and has increased over the past decade. It is also common knowledge for residents of the valley, and you will learn this very quickly after having recently moved to the area, that we experience strong temperature inversions which trap the air and allow for high levels of pollution to build.

Should you choose to use this first approach, I would caution you to consider that the distribution of the data is subject to the number of monitoring sites, the location of those sites and how Air Quality Index Alert Days are organized into categories. A true measure of the quantity of all pollutants in any location and at any time would surely reveal that our condition is even worse than often reported.

Now considering the second and more accurate approach, simply step outside, open your eyes and breathe. I do this everyday and when the air quality is particularly bad, as it has been for much of this spring and summer, I experience a visceral reaction that takes me back to my childhood days. I was born in the Conemaugh Valley of Greater Johnstown, Pennsylvania (coal country) and grew up in Pittsburgh, our country’s second most polluted city after Los Angeles. The haze that hangs over our valley, the bitter, metallic taste of the air and the headaches all remind me of home.

For those of you who still don’t believe and need more data I think a third approach might do the trick-a simple analysis of the relative change in the number of doctor’s office visits for individuals that have asthma or heart disease.

Oh, and one more thing, there are three primary reasons for all this pollution and they may be expressed in an old real estate mantra-cars, cars and cars.




Those writers calling for vehicle emissions testing outside Ada County are sadly misinformed victims of the air quality propaganda machine. If they look at the actual data – AQI indices, median, 95th percentile, etc. – they would find that, despite our growth, annual numbers have stayed within a fairly constant range since 2000, with 2003 being the highest – but still within NAAQS requirements.

Data also shows that motor vehicles are not the primary source of our problem pollutants. Per the latest, although somewhat dated, EPA emissions inventory numbers for our area, highway vehicles account for less than 1 percent of PM-2.5 and just under 25 percent of ozone precursor emissions.

Instead of whining about why nobody else has to test their cars, Ada County residents should instead be asking why they continue to pay what amounts to an emissions tax. Answer? It pours bucks into the treasury, and you’re easy pickings because you don’t have lawyers or lobbyists.

Emissions testing here, now, is akin to an ISP trooper showing up at your door and issuing you a speeding ticket because they think you might exceed the speed limit at some undetermined time in the future. Do you want government like that? I don’t.

By Michael Barnett

I’ve been reading through the articles and comments in the Boise Guardian, and am disappointed to see that the air quality propaganda machine is as successful as it seems to be. I see lots comments about “worse than LA”, “been going downhill since I’ve been here”, “Yellow and Orange Alerts”, “Lose federal dollars”, “economic doom”, “federal takeover”, etc. Please take a few moments and read “the other side”.

Treasure Valley air is in compliance with all National Ambient Air Quality Standards. That statement is not open for interpretation, regardless of what you think or what you hear. It is a fact of the law, whether you think the air is good or bad, or if you couldn’t care less. Might that change in the future? Sure, in fact it probably will, but more than likely it will change because EPA keeps tightening the standards and not because our air is actually getting worse. Also, you must remember that the law does not define “clean” air, it only defines a “dirty” air threshold and what happens when that is crossed, and we are not there – yet.

DEQ’s “Alerts” are a speculative forecast system and do not reflect the actual, calculated Air Quality Index for a particular day. They’re guessing. Sure, they’re equipped to do that, and that’s their job, but it’s still a guess. It’s not at all unusual for the documented AQI for a particular day to be as many as 50 points below what DEQ predicted it would be – but they almost never miss on the low side. Hmmm… DEQ’s Chicken Little air quality Alert system seldom, if ever, matches what the EPA reports real-time on their Region 10 website. In a recent Idaho Statesman interview, the Director of DEQ stated that we’ve had fifty-some “bad” air days already in 2007. There is no such thing as “bad” as an air quality classification, and she was clearly presenting “moderate” days in the worst possible way in order to sway public opinion. To me, that represents irresponsible leadership – and an agenda. So, the next question becomes “why would they make it sound worse than it is?”

It’s simple, really. They want your money, and they need to justify their programs. After all, if you’re a regulatory agency and nobody is violating your regulations, who needs you?

Some history is in order. In the 1970’s the air in Ada County was deemed non-compliant with the Clean Air Act because of high levels of PM-10 (particulate matter 10 microns or less in diameter). The primary cause of the PM-10 was woodstove smoke, and the vehicles of the day contributed their share. Programs, including vehicle emissions testing, were implemented to clean up the air. That was accomplished, thanks mostly to major technological improvements in wood stoves and a local reduction in their use as a primary heating source. Between 1991 and 1999 there was not one single day of air quality regulation Exceedance in Ada County. DEQ finally got off the dime and asked the EPA to reclassify northern Ada County. Why they waited so long to do that is open to speculation. I think it’s because the emissions testing program was, and continues to be, a major cash cow for everybody involved. Unfortunately, at the same time DEQ filed for reclassification, EPA was in the process of implementing some new Particulates standards, and the trucking lobby was challenging them. The truckers initially prevailed in having the new, tougher standards struck down. EPA eventually prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court level, but by then it was too late for Ada County. To make a long story short, a group calling itself Idaho Clean Air Force, which, interestingly enough, included just-unseated ACHD Commissioner Gary Richardson, sued the EPA to keep them from reclassifying Ada County’s air as Attainment. It’s significant here to understand that the lawsuit did not question the actual air quality in Ada County, but was instead based on the administrative procedures EPA used during the reclassification process. Ada County’s air was actually well within either the old or the new standards. Why would ICAF seek to block what most people would have thought was a good thing? My first conclusion is that environmental groups want absolutely no public acknowledgement that things can actually get better, because that threatens their entire agenda and hampers membership recruitment and fund raising. Second, and what I think was the major cause, was that the “Leaders” of the Treasure Valley had just recently decided that ways needed to be developed to increase local fee revenues in order to address future transportation issues in the Valley. I can’t argue with that concept, because we could certainly use some efficient mass transit here. But I strongly object to the underhanded way things subsequently developed.

The Flying Y project was in progress, and a lot of people thought that the lawsuit might hinder that, so COMPASS, our Metropolitan Planning Organization required by federal law, stepped in to broker a settlement to the lawsuit. In short order, a compromise – if you can call it that – was reached and the action never went to trial on its merits. The compromise included acquiescence to leave northern Ada County’s air quality rating in a Maintenance mode, and, as part of that, to continue the vehicle emissions testing requirement. Another element that was tossed in was that COMPASS promised to do everything they could to implement vehicle emissions testing throughout their jurisdiction, which includes Canyon County. So, that’s where that whole thing started. It seems very contradictory to me that less than ten years ago our local “officials” caved in and let happen exactly what they are now supposedly attempting to prevent – a negative air quality classification. Except now they can smell all that fee revenue.

Oh, and by the way, the taxpayers picked up a several-hundred-thousand dollar tab for the ICAF lawyers.

Canyon County residents successfully fought against the implementation of vehicle emissions testing in our jurisdiction. The numbers did not then, and do not now, justify the cost to residents of that kind of program given the virtually non-existent air quality improvement it yields. When I inquired about pass/fail rates, revenue and disbursement, etc., with the Ada County Air Quality people, I got the song-and-dance runaround and never did get out of them everything I requested.

Having failed to fool the local rubes on vehicle emissions testing, COMPASS and DEQ enlisted Senator David Langhorst, D-Boise, to escalate the air quality issue to the state level. Thus was born the Treasure Valley Air Quality Council, which made its recommendations to the Legislature during the 2007 session. If you traced the Council’s proceedings, you would find that they dismissed vehicle emissions testing early in their deliberations as a non-effective strategy, but when they got right down to the end and presented recommendations, guess what? They included a call for a Valley-wide vehicle emissions testing program. Hmmm… imagine that. The Legislature did not act on the Council’s recommendations during the 2007 session, but I’m certain that with all the effort behind it, we’ll hear about it again in 2008.

So, that’s basically where we are today. It seems nearly everyone in the Valley is convinced we’re about to die, our economy is about to collapse, and, depending on which argument you hear, the feds are about to either disown or assimilate us because our air is hopelessly polluted. None of that is true. Here are some things I’ve learned:

Despite our growth, our air quality is actually holding pretty steady, with pollutants down since 2002. I’m not making that up. If you go to the EPA archives of actual Primary Pollutant concentrations reported by DEQ and graph out the various benchmark values for our problem pollutants for the past six or seven years, the graphs are not trending upward, and 2002 was the worst year. Last year is not yet fully reported, and for 2007 you have to use the EPA Region 10 site archives instead of the general EPA site, but the data is there if you choose to mine it. Also, as recently as two weeks ago the EPA updated their national report on air quality status, and no Idaho counties were listed as problem areas. As I said before, what will probably get us eventually are the tougher standards – which I am not arguing against. In fact, I think that’s how it should work. Clean air is a desirable commodity; my point is that our air complies with every definition extant in the law that says we do not need remedial regulations, yet somebody local wants to impose punitive sanctions on us. You are being systematically convinced our air is foul in order to facilitate new regulations – and the fee revenue they will generate.

PM-2.5 and ozone are the pollutants of current local concern. I know the pros at DEQ would argue with me on this, but I maintain that automobiles are not a significant source of PM-2.5 and the EPA emissions inventories agree with me. The PM-2.5 problem is more of a Canyon County problem – most recent local PM-2.5 Exceedances happen here — and like it or not, jobs or not, wink-nod-look-the-other-way, the sugar factory is the main culprit. Ozone is so weather and temperature dependent that it’s hard to get a handle on. All of the control strategies are based on the concept that reducing precursors reduces ozone formation – which assumes that ozone levels stop rising because all precursors are used up. No science I have seen yet confirms that or can predict a direct correlation, i.e. reducing precursors by 20% does not reliably reduce ground level ozone by a like amount. An indicator of how elusive ozone remediation is going to be is that concentrations in remote areas of some National Parks are sometimes higher than in downtown Los Angeles.

If vehicle emissions testing is implemented Valley-wide DEQ can generate theoretical Emissions Budget Reductions, and then trade those on-paper emissions reductions for new commercial/industrial emissions permits. Because those reductions are speculative calculations only, and new permits result in very real emissions, we could actually end up with higher pollutant concentrations. Five years ago, when Idaho Power was looking to build a power plant in Middleton, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry issued a memorandum in support of the project, and in that memo they stated “there is no air quality problem in the Treasure Valley”, and they were right. It seems that if pollutants come from your exhaust pipe, it’s a bad thing, but if they come from economic growth, they’re okay.

Despite what you hear, highway vehicles are not the big demons of all this. Again, what you hear from the locals doesn’t match the data published by the EPA. For example, all you hear during an inversion is not to drive your cars. Per the EPA, highway vehicles account for less than 1% of PM-2.5 particles in our local air. Highway vehicles also account for less than half of ozone precursor emissions in the latest local inventory. Overall fleet emissions have been drastically reduced in the past 10-15 years, thanks to the demise of carbureted engines and the advent of onboard diagnostic computers, and they continue to decline as engine technology improves. Many of you in Ada County know that the emissions testing tech seldom, if ever, actually tests your exhaust. If your car’s diagnostic computer is hooked up and running, you’re good to go – oh, and we take cash, checks, and credit cards. Highway vehicles, or should I say their owners, are easy targets in all this because we don’t have lawyers and lobbyists.

“We”, whoever “we” is, do not lose federal highway dollars should the Treasure Valley fall to Non-attainment status. Federal Highway Trust Fund dollars are allocated to each state according to a statutory formula and the EPA has no say in how many dollars Idaho gets. A board at ITD then decides how those dollars are spent on highway projects across the State. The process is very competitive, highly political, and can be usurped by the Legislature. Once a project gets high enough up the list and there is money available, the project goes forward. Local project funding generally comes from property tax revenue or bonding. Population growth in the Treasure Valley has actually contributed to us getting more money, in part because we now fall into a different funding classification than we used to. In all of my searching, I could find only one instance during the entire life of environmental regulatory review in the U.S. where the EPA stopped a roadway construction project on air quality grounds. It just doesn’t happen. It’s simply another hoop to jump through to justify regulations and bureaucracy, and another scare tactic that the pro-regulation crowd can try on us.

Air quality Non-attainment does not presage economic gloom and doom. In fact, according to recent data, 13 of 25, and 3 of the top 5, fastest growing Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area economies in the United States are air quality Non-attainment areas. If you were totally dependent on majority-rules statistics, these numbers would seem to mean that dirty air is good for your economy – but sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story. In this case I think it demonstrates that there is no verifiable cause/effect relationship between air quality and economic health. I will admit that I have not done long term trend research on those lists to see who stays on and who falls off, which might be a better indicator, but I did check several years running and saw little significant change. It’s more like shuffling a deck of cards – the same cards are there, the order changes. Besides, I daresay Micron just cut more jobs in two weeks than our air quality will impact over the next decade.

If we become air quality Non-attainment, what will the EPA do to us? Pretty simple, actually. They don’t really do anything. They drop the hot potato into DEQ’s lap with a mandate to come up with an acceptable plan to remediate the air quality. That remediation plan will include sanctions – like emissions testing your car, vapor recovery systems at gas stations, enforcing open burning regulations, controlling sprawl… Hey, wait a minute! Does that sound familiar? It should. They’re the same actions recommended by the Treasure Valley Air Quality Council, no doubt at the behest of DEQ. The Federal Government always plays well as the Bogeyman, especially here in Idaho. I would also argue that if the Feds were to require us to enact more stringent measures to achieve some improvement, why would we be trying to get away with doing less? Should not the goal be to achieve air quality improvement instead of trying to skirt around it?

There is already case law precedent that says air quality (except in California, where their Air Quality Management Board predates the original federal Clean Air Act) is a federally controlled and governed initiative. Everywhere in the United States a local or state jurisdiction has attempted to implement their own air quality plans and standards different from those codified in federal regulations, those plans and standards have been thrown out. If any jurisdiction attempts to impose sanctions or standards selectively on Treasure Valley residents without us first being in violation of the applicable federal regulations, I have little doubt that the issue will end up in a federal court and the taxpayers can once again pick up the tab.

Could our air be cleaner? Maybe, but not with 600,000 people already in a Valley that is rapidly developing using a blueprint that is a demonstrable failure everywhere it’s been used since WWII. But that blueprint makes all the movers and shakers rich, and isn’t that, after all, the real goal? Never let common sense stand in the way of somebody making a buck.

Okay, so that’s air quality from “the other side”. I’m certainly not coming out in favor of “dirty” air. I, too, can see the brown stuff we have now that we didn’t have ten years ago, and I do think we could do better – but we don’t need more regulations and cost to do it. What we need is a little backbone in hearing rooms, council chambers, and a certain domed building downtown. I’ve been following this saga from the beginning, and perhaps my biggest disappointment is that there appear to be no limits to the misinformation that the people who work for us will shovel onto us in order to get what they want.

Don’t blame Californians or other newcomers for what ails the Treasure Valley. Put the blame where it belongs – squarely on the shoulders of all the self-serving little people who think they’re up to big jobs.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. After wading through both views I come away with the overall conclusion that despite elimination of much wood smoke and cleaner burning cars the air is just as dirty as ever or worse…apparently due to the G Man’s dreaded growth.

    We do indeed live in a valley subject to inversions, so why do we keep contributing to the problem?

  2. A more reasoanable approach might be to see if the vehicle computer is throwing codes (reads..check engine light). In my experience with the modern car they don’t require much maintenance beyond oil and filter changes, including fuel and air filters. Ignition stuff like plugs and wires easily go 100k miles. There are other components to the rat maze of cars that do cause problems like O2 sensors that go bad and vapor recover purge valves that fail. Sticking a sniffer up the tail pipe is not the whole story with vehicle emissions.

    With the price of fuel it seems pretty axiomatic that a periodic check of the computer codes is quick, cheap could actually save the vehicle owner money.

  3. Hmmmm, thousands, (hundreds of thousands) of more cars haven’t increased the SMOG here in the valley? I guess that is what Michael is trying to prove? What does he do for a living again? I sort of gave up some where about page eleven. He must have been another of Air Force general mcpeak’s Total Quality Management (TQM) chanters of the 1990s- – -“If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance try your best to baffle ’em with bull&#!^.”

  4. I’m confused. After an impressive analysis Michael concludes with this:

    “Okay, so that’s air quality from “the other side”. I’m certainly not coming out in favor of “dirty” air. I, too, can see the brown stuff we have now that we didn’t have ten years ago, and I do think we could do better – but we don’t need more regulations and cost to do it.”

    He maintains throughout his essay that our air quality problems is not because of our automobiles, and offers us a handful of other culprits, most of which he admits are being regulated more stringently.

    Putting aside the summer fires and the winter inversion patterns we experience every year, what exactly is causing this “brown stuff that we didn’t have ten years ago?”


  5. I too breath (or try to), look at the horizon (or where it should be), and check the color of the air (shouldn’t air be colorless?) as my own private check of the daily air pollution. And, often I too am reminded of where I grew up — same headaches, same coughing and choking, same wheezing, same taste (shouldn’t air be tasteless?).

    I have been unfortunate enough to see four valleys fill with air pollution (Santa Clara Valley, Valley of the Sun or Phoenix, Tucson Valley and Treasure Valley). In all four cases, the primary culprit, with help from other sources, has been motor vehicles.

    Phoenix thought it was being smart in recruiting clean industry but clean industry in a soon-to-be-sprawling area meant vehicles, lots of them. I saw Tucson go from a two-block patch of smog to an entire valley-full in less than 10 years. When I moved to Boise 41 years ago, I was lucky enough to find it relatively clear. It was actually between dirty air. Natural gas had recently been brought to the valley and coal was being phased out. Smudge pots in orchards were about to be eliminated. Field burning was reduced.

    But vehicles relentlessly increased along with daily distances as neighborhood stores closed and jobs and housing grew apart.

    Because the Treasure Valley is smaller than the other three, the air pollution gets worse faster when there is an inversion. My breath test says we are reaching a crisis situtation for many people with respiratory difficulties.

    Do I drive? Yes I do. Am I part of the problem? Absolutely. But I do rideshare when it is feasible and I try to plan routes to accomplish errands with as little extra driving as possible. And, I try to drive the most economical vehicle for the job I need it to do. Is that enough? No, but it is a start.

  6. Sorry Mr. Barnett, but you’ve failed to convince me. It seems that we are now constantly in an “orange” or “red” smog alert in the valley. We do know that vehicles put out pollutants and greenhouse gasses. Actually nationwide vehicles are the main source of these pollutants.

    I know, I know, pollution and smog are a “left-wing conspiracy theory.” Sometimes I’m sooo reminded that I live in Idaho.

  7. Inconvenient Truths (as opposed to my flawless opinions):

    The main variable over the last 20 years that would have an impact on Treasure Valley air quality, is the population increase. (And accompanying increase in heating systems, dust being raised, etc., but mostly more vehicles and vehicle miles driven.)

    Boise air is impacted by factors outside of the city, or even Ada County. (I use as evidence the FACT that during winter inversions, the unique and unmistakable “bouquet” from the Nampa sugar factory is very evident in Boise.)

    The mandatory vehicle emissions inspection program may be somewhat effective, but the cost/benefit needs some scrutiny:
    – Well over 90% of the vehicles that are required to take the test, pass the test. (Which means 10 vehicle owners pay the fee, for every one vehicle that gets “caught.”)

    – If a vehicle doesn’t pass the inspection, and the owner has spent at least $200 sincerely trying to bring it into compliance, the driver can drive on in the dirty vehicle, after paying the inspection fee, of course. (That must make sense to somebody… it’s sure never made sense to me.)

  8. In the winter on bad air quality days, we shutdown people from heating their homes with wood heat, unless that is their only source of heat. Maybe we should extend the “burn ban” on those same days to vehicles summer or winter.

  9. Bikeboy, you mention the $200 fee if your vehicle fails to pass… tell me something, those people that get caught, and have problems with their cars.

    How many do you think are newer cars? How many are driven by people that can easily afford to fix an engine problem? I know of 2 people that had failures. They were both OLD, crappy cars, that were all those 2 people could afford. That is how they made it to work and home. That is how they made the money to eat with, to pay rent with. They didn’t have a lot left over, to fix the cars.

    So, you want to change it so if they don’t pass, they can’t get to work, they can’t make a living? That seems pretty heartless. I also think that emissions testing is a joke. I hate this smog, but it seems that no one is mentioning the new fires that have started. Those fires toss tons of pollution into the air… that pollution comes down into our valley, and then gets trapped.

    It sucks, but that happens every year. I dread August, because it is near constant heavy smog. We don’t get a lot of heavy winds to push the smog out, and get stuck with it, day after day, week after week. Cars are an easy scape goat. The air was hitting yellow off and on, until the forest fires hit. We had 1 orange day before that? After the forest fires started, we started getting these higher levels. I think we should look that direction, more than at the way people get to work and home.

  10. Maybe the best thing that could happen is that we hit the red alert for a couple days. Maybe then people will pay attention to the problem. It’s so hard to believe people don’t accept the fact that cars are the biggest problem for pollution.
    The old bury your head in the sand.

  11. Kevin… I’m not necessarily advocating taking away poor peoples’ wheels. I’m just pointing out the absurdity of the current rules. Pay the inspection fee. Get inspected. If you pass, cool. If you don’t pass, that’s cool too. So, what’s the point of the inspection, other than to collect the fee and feed the bureaucracy?

    Regarding your grim scenario where your poor friends can’t get to work and make a living without a car… THAT illustrates a big part of the problem. The vast majority are totally dependent (at least in their minds) on having that readily-available single-occupant vehicle. It is so ingrained that they don’t even consider the options. Do your people live near a bus line? Could somebody else give ’em a ride for a few weeks or a month, allowing them to save enough to get a vehicle that isn’t quite so harsh on the environment? A bike, maybe? (To you, or them, that notion might seem absurd. But I’ve been riding a bicycle, almost exclusively, for 22+ years, right here in Boise. And I’m no Lance Armstrong – the editor can attest to that.)

    We have fires every year that impact our air quality, sometimes for days at a time. But we’ve never had so many “orange” days. 2007 is almost certainly destined to be the worst air-quality year we’ve had, at least since they started measuring.

  12. curious george
    Jul 17, 2007, 10:01 am

    One of the more curious plans being adopted in recent memory is the Treasure Valley Air Quality Council’s plan for making the valley’s air cleaner.

    The plan document asserts that the valley’s airshed is all the air volume below 1,100 meters in elevation (or as the study asserts, 3,400 feet above sea level) – think of the valley as a bath tub, and the dirty ring left behind after the Saturday-night scrub indicating the 1,100 meter mark.

    The only problem being that 1,100 meters is actually 3,600 feet above sea level, not the 3,400 feet claimed in the (obviously not) peer-reviewed plan – and a two hundred foot elevation change covers a lot of land. Further, the only testing stations are located in relatively urbanized areas – providing historic data for the study hardly useful for any sensitivity analysis. There are NO stations in Meridian, Star, Eagle, Kuna or anywhere in the foothills – that is, there’s no historic air sample data anywhere near the 1,100 meter elevation (whether it’s 3,400 or 3,600 feet above sea level). Truly unfortunately, the only station locations that test for Carbon Monoxide (CO) and the smog-precursors emitted by vehicles (nitrogen & sulfur compounds in the 2.5-micron size, which convert to nitric and sulfuric acids when they react with air moisture) are located in Middleton, Caldwell, Nampa, and Boise.

    With virtually no readings from truly rural areas (and none located anywhere near the supposed dirty bath tub ring at 1,100 meters), there’s no way to determine what the impacts urbanization will have (or has had) on the valley’s air quality. This is particularly important, since the plan ends with a staunch support for the “Community Choices” land use scenario from the Long-range Regional Transportation Plan (a.k.a. Communities In Motion).

    For certain, the historic data from the monitoring stations does indicate that the air quality has been declining. ONE of the variables that could be influencing the data is the increase in vehicle-miles-traveled within the air shed, there are a number of other factors not the least of which are weather changes and shifts in industrial manufacturing techniques.

    But with no ex-urban monitoring stations, there’s absolutely no way to scientifically claim that the Community Choices Land Use Scenario will be any more beneficial for air quality than the Trend (or sprawl) Scenario. But the plan endorses Community Choices – obviously, not for scientific reasons.

    And, for anyone who still believes that the valley’s air quality will improve (from today’s miserable condition) under the Community Choices scenario – think again. Both the Trend and Choices scenarios are based on 425,000 more people moving to the valley – the only difference being the distribution of houses and jobs. And what does this re-distribution do for the average vehicle trip? Under Choices, the average driver enjoys driving a grand total of just under 500-feet less per day (or just under two city blocks), than is forecasted in the Trend scenario. Of course, the Choices scenario can only be “afforded” if we can find a way to fund the $2B shortfall in transportation-related infrastructure projects needed to make Choices a reality.

  13. Hopefully they are making the story about Boise for the airline magazine right now. The air quality will make for some good photos to convince people that we already have enough people in this valley.

  14. Hey, Intended to be long gone before all the bad-air days but wasn’t to be. Will have to wait til the next high housing market crest.

    The Guardian is right…. it is a tax and cars are a much smaller part of the problem then they lead us to believe.

    The sniff test for the vehicles is an easy way to tax the little guy. We can’t fight back the way the real big poluters can. We also don’t spread alot of money around the political circles either.

    In spite of our inability to effectively fight back…. the one thing a political type must never say in Idaho is “tax increase”…..”Fee” is much safer to say.

    If you don’t believe me look to the places that have so many liberals a tax increase is welcomed….many of those places have no sniff test.


    PS: Would you go back to an accountant that was surprised to find a $250 million error in their work? Only in the government!

  15. Rod in SE Boise
    Jul 17, 2007, 7:59 pm

    Kevin, which is more heartless, forcing older high-polluting vehicles off the road or allowing them to continue spewing out noxious fumes? My vehicle passes the inspection, why should those that don’t pass, get a pass? What’s the point of the test, then? That’s like promoting students who fail the mid-term and final exam. Those few vehicles that don’t pass are probably responsible for a high percentage of the pollution blamed on vehicles, and getting them to Barger-Mattson would be a start. Getting people to not move here from wherever they come from would be more effective, though.

  16. Agent Whynotski
    Jul 18, 2007, 12:08 am

    Just because your newer vehicle passes the emissions test, doesn’t mean you a part of the solution to cleaner air. I think a lot of people miss that major point about vehicle emissions and pollution. I encourage you to visit to see how your vehicle rates on emissions. You will find ratings on air pollution and greenhouse gases including MPG data for many vehicles.

    To help those who are too lazy to do their own comparison, let me offer a sample of data. The following comparison numbers can vary based on engine features. The Air Pollution score represents the amount of health-damaging and smog-forming airborne pollutants the vehicle emits. Scoring ranges from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are substances in the atmosphere, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide (CO2), that trap heat near the Earth’s surface. Scoring ranges from 16.2 tons per year (worst) to 3.5 tons per year (best).

    2005 Ford F150 Pickup 4WD emits at 13.1 tons/yr and has a pollution score of 3.
    2005 Ford Explorer 4WD puts out 12.2 tons/yr and has a pollution score from 2.
    2005 Ford Crown Victoria emits 9.6 tons/yr with a pollution score of 4.
    2005 Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD emits 6.8 tons/yr with a pollution score of 7.

    1996 Ford F150 4WD emits 13.1 tons/yr and pollution score NA.
    1996 Ford Explorer 4WD emits 11.4 tons/yr and pollution score NA.
    1996 Ford Crown Victoria emits 8.4 tons/yr and pollution score NA.
    1996 Ford Bronco emits 13.1 tons/yr and pollution score NA.

    1985 Ford F150 Pickup 4WD emits 11.4 tons/yr and pollution score NA.
    1985 Ford Bronco emits 11.4 tons/yr and pollution score NA.
    1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria emits 10.8 tons/yr and pollution score NA.

    Now think about how many of these types of cars you see in our valley while understanding the geographic propensity towards inversion. Add to it economic development (industrial pollution not limited to rearranging the ground to fit the houses), consumer waste (drive-thru idling and vehicular recreation), and wild fires (how many were started by off-road vehicles and fireworks?) and it doesn’t surprise me why the air purely stinks.

  17. curious george
    Jul 18, 2007, 10:01 am

    Here’s a great link to a fact sheet from the National Safety Council about vehicle emissions.

    Note that Cold Starts are where a large percentage of the tailpipe emissions come from. When taken with the average commute time in the urbanized area (20 minutes), any proposed development that contributes to a longer commute time than 20 minutes should undergo special scrutiny. Any development with a near 20 minute commute but whose location is outside the valley’s air shed should be recognized for cutting potential work commute related Cold Starts by one-half – and any development that is within the 20 minute commute boundary should be recognized as being beneficial to air quality.

    Any developer who concedes to Transportation Demand Management practices for the proposed development (in a Development Agreement), such as financial contribution to transit (Bus, Car/Van Pool) or employing a rideshare program for residents, or (most importantly) committing to the development of affordable housing, should receive special “credit” during the development entitlement process. This may take the form of a streamlined approval process, on-site parking reductions, density bonuses, or reduced processing, impact, or utility hook-up fees.

    We need to make it easier and less expensive to do the right thing. And, injecting the entitlement process with a greater level of predictability (for these “right” projects) would be a laudable effort. Conversley, we need to make it much harder to do things that damage our collective future.

    It is not about how much pollution a single car may emit, or how we track the emission. For those concerned about the fairness question for people who can only afford older vehicles, ask the harder question of why they might have to drive across an entire county to get to work.

    Canyon County officials have steadfastly resisted implementation of a vehicle emissions testing program, not because of the program’s efficacy but because it’s good for the county’s real estate economy. As long as real estate is cheaper in Canyon County and our more remote communities, the working poor will be stuck having to drive long distances (with their older vehicles) to get to work.

    Their jobs will continue to be placed where land values are higher, due to public policies that place a higher and greater value on land for businesses and not for residences.

    When someone advocates for the removal of high-pollution cars, they don’t understand the real question.

  18. Agent Whynotski
    Jul 18, 2007, 2:58 pm

    I appreciate george’s thoughts on development rules playing a significant role in our air quality. I differ with curious george’s assessment “When someone advocates for the removal of high-pollution cars, they don’t understand the real question.”

    One has to factor high-polluting cars and business equipment into the equation and add incentives for reducing emissions while changing development rules for the future to see significant improvement in air quality. If you address one without addressing the other, you are running yourself into a circle.

    George writes, “It is not about how much pollution a single car may emit, or how we track the emission.” It’s about the actions of the individual adding up to a collective approach to reducing emissions. It’s about better emission standards that show an accurate vehicle emissions. While the poor working class may have a black-smoking car, they are relatively few compared to the number of newer gas-only SUV and utility vehicles owned by middle-class individuals, local corporations, and our government.

    Compare the numbers for emissions on older vehicles versus newer vehicles. It demonstrates that little has changed in 20 years for output of emissions, with exception to the hybrid vehicles that cut both types of emissions by half or more when compared to their gas-only counterpart. Many people who drive vehicles in both counties on a regular basis are driving newer vehicles which emit more than 8 tons/yr in GHGs and have a pollution score that is 5 or less. Vehicle manufacturers are doing better at developing a product that cuts both emissions, however many times these newer vehicles will have a good pollution score but a high GHG rating.

    Canyon County has refused to implement vehicle emissions testing because citizens are aware testing is nothing more than a bureaucratic revenue generator. An emissions test does little for controlling air quality when standards are too low and the county and valley is host to polluting factories and industry. Canyon citizens are also very good at holding the commissioners feet to the fire over testing issues.

    I agree that more can be done as far as future development and how it can aid in limiting vehicle trips. Of course approaching vehicle usage and development in this valley does little to change the geography which only has so much air to go around, particularly on a “bad” day. And in any urban center located in a valley, it is difficult to achieve high air quality when you cram too many people into a small area without offering alternatives to polluting behavior.

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