Thursday, March 06, 2008

Smog Police - Making a Difference?

The State Legislature is grappling with House Bill 586. What it would do is authorize the State Air Quality people to require vehicle emission testing anywhere in the state that has at-risk air quality.

The real agenda is to require Canyon County to test their vehicles, just like Ada County.

At first glance, it seems like a no-brainer. Especially if you listen to the road reports as the Canyon County hoardes descend into Boise in the morning, and return home in the evening. After all, they, too, are contributing in a meaningful way to Boise's significant air pollution problem.

Glory be! Clear sunny days are just around the corner!

But wait.

Let's look at Ada County's vehicle emissions inspection program, before we foist it on our neighbors in Canyon County. (Even if they deserve to share in the misery.)

First of all - well over 90% of Ada County cars pass the first time. So, for those people, the inspection and fee are nothing but another hassle and another expense, with absolutely no other benefit. (Unless you consider the testing/bureaucracy "industry" a benefit. It would be nice to see those folks doing something productive, though... wouldn't it?)

For the few percent of cars that don't pass the first time...

The inspectors know lots of tricks that'll make the car pass the test. Like setting the idle screw faster, or taking off the air cleaner. They do their temporary tweaks. They redo the test - the car passes. They undo the tweaks, making the car once again non-compliant. And everybody goes away happy. (Is that somehow improving our air quality?)

If the car still doesn't pass, the owner is required to spend up to $200, to make the car compliant. And I love this part... if the car still doesn't pass after the $200 is spent, "you may qualify for a waiver of this year’s requirement to pass the test." (http://www.emissiontest.org) Smogmobile drives in... smogmobile drives out, for another year.

So... explain to me again how the vehicle testing program, as currently administered, improves air quality. Or how expanding it to Canyon County will improve air quality.

Let's say there are 250,000 vehicles motoring about in Treasure Valley, on a given day. Furthermore, just to make the math easy, let's say 25,000 of them (10%) are spewing out too much smog... but would still be spewing it after the test. (Based on the real-world scenarios I described previously.)

Our air quality problem is largely being caused by all 250,000 vehicles! The cars that pass, still contribute to the total! As do the cars that don't pass, but drive on anyway! Just because you've paid your $20 at the testing station hasn't changed the air in any way! Hello!

I say NO to House Bill 586. Not because I'm not concerned about air quality - the opposite is true! (I live in Boise and I ride a bicycle, all year 'round, even on the yellow and orange days.) I say NO because HB586 is nothing more than Window Dressing, and expansion of the bureaucracy. I'm amazed that somebody has to explain this to the Legislature.

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