- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Forcing motorists to spend half a day in line waiting to have their vehicles' emissions tested might be easier to justify if significant improvements in air quality were the result. But critics of the so-called "smog tests" are being vindicated: The tests are a waste of time for the vast majority of motorists and do next to nothing so far as cleaning up the air is concerned.

Evidence is accruing from around the country that despite the Environmental Protection Agency's strident claims about the cost-effectiveness of vehicle emissions tests and especially the so-called "chassis dynamometer" type that samples emissions levels during a simulated road test the only upside to the rigmarole is the profits generated for the companies that manufacturer the testing equipment.

In Colorado, for example, a recent audit of that state's vehicle emissions testing system found that carbon monoxide (CO) reductions were only on the order of 8 percent not the 30 percent or more EPA had sworn on a stack of catalytic converters would be the result. The $40 million program could be eliminated with "little short or long term impact" on pollution levels, the audit said.

A similar study in Arizona determined that emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOX; a major precursor of smog) were cut by less than half of what EPA projected. Other states have arrived at similar or even more embarrassing for EPA conclusions. Minnesota, for example, did a study that found no benefit at all of the emissions tests.

Interestingly, scientists within the agency and those on the outside, who have made the facts clear to agency bureaucrats have known for many years that testing new and late model vehicles is pointless. These cars and trucks models built since the mid-1980s have thoroughly integrated and highly sophisticated engine management and emissions' control systems. Unlike the primitive controls used on the first vehicles subject to emissions regulation (model year 1968 to about model year 1981, which was the first year for computer engine controls), the equipment being installed on new and recent vintage cars and trucks is both effectively "tamper-proof" and extremely good at keeping a lid on noxious stuff coming out of the tailpipe.

Study after study has found that a relative handful (about 10 percent of the vehicle fleet) contributes 80-90 percent of the air-fouling pollutants. Most of these cars are older than model year 1981 and in poor tune. Identifying these cars and requiring their owners to have them repaired is the key to significant, cost-effective gains in air quality. The technology exists to sort these vehicles out. It's called remote sensing, and it uses an infrared beam to sample the emissions content of a passing vehicle's exhaust stream. Remote-sensing stations can be set up along freeways and other locations and when a polluting car is identified, the owner can automatically be sent a notice advising him to have the vehicle repaired (or requiring him to bring it in for testing).

Get that car fixed or off the road and you've done something to "save the planet." Follow EPA's mindless one-size-fits-all testing regime, and all you've done is line the pockets of companies that produce the testing equipment and expand the reach of Big Brother.

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