The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 September 2005

More clues in California

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has apparently figured out that pushing for next-to-nonexistent emissions levels in new vehicles doesn't do a blessed thing for actual South Coast air quality. While they're not going to relax the standards they have, the District's board has decided to go after real polluters: remote emissions-sensing devices will be placed in random locations in four smog-prone counties and will sniff out the dirtiest exhausts.

While they can't legally order the stinkers off the road, exactly, they will provide incentives:

[O]wners of the vehicles that cough out the most pollution will be contacted by mail and offered $500 for repairs through a local community college, or $1,000 cash to scrap their cars. Those who qualify as low-income residents would be offered an additional $2,000, or a total of $3,000, to retire their clunkers and buy cars that are state-certified as low-emission vehicles.

"Gross polluters," says board chairman William Burke, "make up about 10 percent of the passenger vehicle fleet, and yet they are responsible for at least 50 percent of the air pollution from that fleet."

I'd be happier if they could order the clunkers off the road, but give the members of the board credit for finally recognizing a problem and taking it on.

(Detected at Jalopnik.)

Posted at 7:07 AM to Driver's Seat


I'd be happier if they could order the clunkers off the road, but give the members of the board credit for finally recognizing a problem and taking it on.

A question: why can't they? I liked this quote:

But while the program targets old clunkers that somehow passed smog check even though they belch out thick clouds of black smoke, it is strictly voluntary in nature, as the air agency has no power to force someone to get rid of his or her car.

I suppose the state legislature could grant that authority, if none of them ever wanted to be re-elected. But that's not what got my antihistamine-rattled brain a-wonderin'.

If this program were aimed at SUVs or yachts or whatever, I would likely oppose it as a taxpayer handout to people to get them to do the right thing, and point out that regulation would be cheaper and more effective. That's not true if the regulation affects only poor people - it might be cheaper, but not more effective, since people tend not to abide by regulations they can't afford to follow.

Yet California requires these cars to get emissions checks, and these big honkers are passing them "somehow." Wouldn't it be better to spend some money to find out how that's happening and, you know, stop it? If they can find the cars belching out the fumes, they can find out where they passed their smog inspections, can't they?

I dunno, I'm sounding so law-and-order today...

Posted by: Matt at 1:13 PM on 13 September 2005

I think they decided on this because it fits with an existing California program: if you fail a smog test and have sufficiently low income, the state will put up $500 towards repairing a belcher.

Besides, the state, up to now, has been letting people slide for up to two years. (Explanation here.) I'm guessing that rather a lot of these old beaters have gone past their due date.

(Disclosure: I moved to the Los Angeles area in 1988 and had to have my car retuned to meet the California specs for its model year. It passed after a small amount of tweakage, despite not being a California-specific model.)

Posted by: CGHill at 2:27 PM on 13 September 2005

Yet California requires these cars to get emissions checks, and these big honkers are passing them "somehow."

Actually, most states don't test vehicles beyond a certain age. In Georgia, it's 25 years.

Posted by: McGehee at 12:06 PM on 14 September 2005

It has been 30 in California, though this is considered a "loophole" by some, and measures have been introduced to require that any car that ever had a smog device be tested regardless of age. (Presumably we're talking late 1960s here.)

Posted by: CGHill at 1:09 PM on 14 September 2005