The AirCare bays in Chilliwack on Airport Road.

FVRD narrowly renews AirCare

The AirCare program nearly failed inspection at the Fraser Valley Regional District last week despite the estimated $77 million in health benefits the program brings by reducing vehicle emissions.

The AirCare program nearly failed inspection at the Fraser Valley Regional District last week despite the estimated $77 million in health benefits the program brings by reducing vehicle emissions.

FVRD directors approved a motion to continue support for the $47-million program for another 10 years, but only after it was amended with a call to include “heavy polluters” currently exempt from inspection.

Chilliwack director Chuck Stam said he could not support the program as long as it targeted only the “low-hanging fruit” of vehicle owners who can’t afford new cars or the cost of repairs to pass AirCare inspections.

He wanted to see marine traffic – the freighters and cruise ships that ply B.C. waters – inspected along with automobiles.

“Why are we not going after where the real problem lies?” he asked.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called for a ban in 2009 to stop all large ocean-going vessels that did not meet emission standards from entering the waters around North American coasts, a move it said could save up to 8,300 lives each year in the U.S. and Canada.

Nearly 424,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases were pumped into the Fraser Valley airshed by ocean-going vessels in 2000, about half that amount by harbour vessels, and half that again by BC Ferries, for a total 717,000 tonnes, according to an inventory conducted by the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

In 2005, light-duty gasoline vehicles emitted about 271,000 tonnes of pollutants in B.C., according to BC Air Quality statistics, plus another 297,000 tonnes from light-duty gasoline trucks for a total 568,000 tonnes.

AirCare estimates the 17,440 tonnes of pollutants it will eliminate each year at a cost of $47 million annually, shows the cost-effectiveness of the program, especially in light of the estimated $77 million it will also save each year in health care costs.

There’s also the $35 million in revenue generated for the auto repair industry from vehicles that failed inspection, and the estimated $21 million in new car sales as owners take “beaters” off the road altogether.

Vehicles made after 2005 do not require inspection.

About 43,000 vehicles, nearly 10 per cent of the total inspected, failed last year.

Dick Bogstie, area director for Hatzic Prairie/McConnell Creek, said he is “adamantly opposed” to the program, saying it hits low-income families hardest, especially in rural areas where there is no public transit.

“Most of the old vehicles are owned by people who can’t afford a new one because they’re trying to put food on the table and a roof over their head,” he said.

And those are the people FVRD directors are elected to serve, he added.

“I don’t think we’re here to make the car dealers happy,” he said.

Directors who defended the program were concerned about the “hypocritical” message the FVRD would be sending, if it withdrew support.

Terry Gidda, Mission area director, said the board has often blamed air pollution on contaminants blown up the valley from Vancouver.

“If we don’t support this, they’re going to say we’re not supporting clean air in our own area,” he said.

Abbotsford director Simon Gibson agreed.

The regional district is “obliged” to fight air pollution, he said.

“AirCare is one of the ways we can do this,” he said.

Bogstie warned the regional district would be “stuck with the costs” of AirCare for the next 10 years, if it approved the motion, no matter what technological improvements may come along.

“Technology has done far more (to reduce emissions) than AirCare can ever conceive,” he said.

David Gourley, AirCare operations manager, agreed technological advances “keep getting better” at reducing emissions, but there will “always be advantages in checking vehicles for safety and maintenance periodically.”

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