Thousands of drivers to receive refunds for illegal emissions testing

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was a governmental blunder that cost thousands of New Mexicans hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wednesday night, a city-county board backtracked on an emissions requirement that turned out to be against the law.

For years, Bernalillo County drivers have been required to get their vehicles tested for emissions. But it turns out, thousands of those tests were illegal.

“I think this is something that should have been recognized at the time,” explained Deputy Director for the Environmental Health Department, Danny Nevarez.

Nevarez told KRQE News 13’s Larry Barker on Wednesday the Air Quality Control Board made a big mistake. “I mean it certainly has an impact on the community,” said Nevarez.

Specifically, its impacted drivers of diesel powered vehicles.

The problem began after the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board approved a requirement to start testing diesel powered vehicles for emissions.

“It appears that they were trying to be proactive on a new ozone standard,” said Nevarez.

The requirement to test diesel powered vehicles has been in effect since January of 2013.

The problem is that the Albuquerque Bernalillo Air Quality Control Board has no authority to test diesel powered vehicles. In fact, what they’ve been doing is illegal.

“It was a shared responsibility between the Air Quality Control Board and the Air Quality Program,” said Nevarez.

The difference is in the engines. State law says a gasoline engine can be tested for emissions, but not a diesel engine. That hasn’t stopped Bernalillo County from testing diesel powered vehicles for emissions for more than three years.

Wednesday night, the board took a step toward correcting the mistake. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board voted to repeal diesel vehicle emissions testing requirements.

But even though the board voted to repeal the law, that doesn’t mean the illegal testing is over yet.

“We’re following the process that we have to do to rectify this and we’re working again as expeditiously as we can to do that,” Nevarez told KRQE News 13.

Nevarez said refunds will be issued to the owners of roughly 9,500 diesel powered vehicles.

“We’re very sorry that this took place,” Nevarez added.

The city county board said refunds to diesel vehicles owners will amount to roughly $200,000.

The Environmental Protection Agency still needs to sign off before the diesel testing requirement is officially repealed. Officials hope that’ll happen by the end of the year.

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