Friday, February 13, 2009
A breath of fresh air in the Environment Committee
On a day when we saw troubling news come out of the House Education Committee, the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee made the right call on a key issue for the Treasure Valley on Thursday.
In 2004, Sen. David Langhorst (D-Boise) and Rep. Mark Snodgrass (R-Meridian) joined forces to combat what was a growing problem in our region: deteriorating air quality that posed growing health risks to the public. After countless public meetings, task forces, iterations of bills, and real compromise forged over the course of four years, these two distinguished legislators got the bill passed. This was the critical step needed in recognizing that Canyon County is in the same air shed as Ada County, where vehicle emissions testing is already in place.
H482 gave the DEQ the authority to set up an emissions testing program in air sheds that are approaching federal non-attainment. The Treasure Valley has been dangerously close to non-attainment--it's only due to a confluence of favorable meteorological phenomena and last year's record gas prices that we were able to avert the designation.
Urgent action is needed to avoid the crippling sanctions that will stifle economic development if we fail to meet federal standards and the EPA takes over management of air quality. As I argued today in committee, this is why the region's Chambers of Commerce backed the bill. During a severe economic downturn, the last thing we need is to handicap local businesses by restricting our ability to grow and expand our transportation infrastructure. DEQ Director Toni Hardesty spelled it out clearly for a group of legislators back in December: once we hit non-attainment, the sanctions will go into effect and remain in effect for 20 years, despite whatever efforts we subsequently pursue to address the problem.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet wisely argued that Rep. Harwood (who proposed repeal of H482) should engage in the rulemaking process with the DEQ rather than throwing out the entire piece of legislation. Chairman Dell Raybould reminded the committee that they had heard over two days worth of testimony last year and that many compromises had been made to arrive at the bill that was finally passed.
Six members of the committee--Reps. Elaine Smith (D), Wendy Jaquet (D), Eric Anderson (R), Dell Raybould (R), George Eskridge (R), and I (D!!!) prevailed in a 6-5 vote. Had it gone the other way, we would have been subjected to several days worth of testimony, bunk scientific claims, fear mongering, and denial of a real problem. H482 was a much needed bill; our efforts should now remain focused on implementing measures as quickly as possible, rather than looking to repeal the bill just as it's starting to take effect.
If you believe in clean air and economic development in the Treasure Valley, send a note of thanks to the committee members who rightly rejected the repeal attempt.