A fresh balance of power on the Anchorage Assembly stacks the odds that the city's vehicle emissions testing program, which has proven itself a hugely contentious issue, will cling to life.
Interviews with Assembly members Wednesday show a proposal put on the table this week to keep the program has the backing of at least six members of the 11-person body -- enough to reverse an inspections-killing 8-2 vote from an Assembly of an entirely different political stripe last year.
Assembly Chairman Matt Claman, who had four members of the body as co-sponsors, offered the I/M-saving measure Tuesday night.
Claman said Wednesday that his central motivation for keeping the program in place is the health benefits of cleaner air. He said he's talked to people who treat respiratory diseases and they've convinced him of the imperatives of controlling vehicle emissions.
Claman became Assembly chairman after a new majority swept into office during April's election and swung the balance of power on the panel to the left. The shifting political landscape could influence the outcome of environmental and other issues as they come before the rearranged body.
Claman said he's "hopeful" the support is in place among current Assembly members to keep the inspections and maintenance test program. But he said he's reluctant to make a firm prediction "until we actually vote."
That vote could come later in the summer, some time after a public hearing scheduled for June 24. Joining Claman in sponsoring the measure were Assembly members Mike Gutierrez, Elvi Gray-Jackson, Harriet Drummond and Sheila Selkregg.
Assembly member Patrick Flynn, who could be the key vote, said Wednesday he counts himself an almost certain vote in favor of keeping the program. His reading of the politics on the issue also indicates the proposal will ultimately be approved, he said.
Selkregg said she believes keeping the program will be approved.
"This is not a left or right thing -- this is forward or backward," she said.
"I think we have a more forward-looking Assembly right now."
Dick Traini, who lost his Assembly seat in April to Gray-Jackson, was a leading voice to kill the I/M program. On Wednesday he called the new proposal a "profound disappointment" and vowed to undertake a citizens' initiative to block any effort to maintain the inspections.
The program "doesn't include any air quality that we don't already achieve," he said. "It makes no sense to bring it back again."
As things stand now, the I/M program, in place since 1985, would end next year.
Since the program's inception, city air quality has improved. Those who favor the program point to those advances as arguments in favor of keeping the inspections, but so do those who oppose the program. Foes say the improved air quality means the program is no longer needed.
The city estimates Anchorage vehicle owners spend about $8.7 million a year on I/M tests and related repairs.
Assembly member Chris Birch, one of those who voted to kill the testing last year, said Tuesday night that talk of keeping it is a waste of time.
While keeping the inspections program on the books, the new proposal would make changes. Among them are a provision making new cars exempt from tests for six years, instead of the current four, and exempting vehicles more than 25 years old from emissions tests.
Find Terry Carr online at adn.com/contact/tcarr.