Chapter 2 for Smog Check II
California’s automobile smog control program has a rich history of controversy. In 1975, the Legislature passed a bill requiring that all older vehicles be retrofitted with a device that would significantly reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen, major components in smog. The protest against the bill was so intense that then-Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. vetoed it.
The latest fuss concerns Smog Check II, another attempt to reduce these emissions. Thousands of irate motorists protested at the Capitol last year in opposition to the program, which would require more thorough testing of high-polluting autos. The Legislature modified the complex bill, but opposition remained so strong that legislative budget writers threatened this spring to eliminate the program altogether.
Reason prevailed. The Senate-Assembly conference committee that is writing a final version of the $76-billion state budget has restored funding for Smog Check II based on the adoption of further refinements.
Getting a car smog-checked would be somewhat easier for some motorists, especially low-income Californians who tend to drive the older vehicles that emit the most pollutants. It’s a compromise that will truly please no one, but it is far better than wiping out the inspections altogether and inviting reprisals from the federal government.
Smog Check II originally required that the state’s worst-polluting autos--about 15% of the total--be taken to new testing stations that use a dynamometer, a treadmill-like machine that measures oxides of nitrogen. If a car failed the test, the owner had to take it to another station for repairs, then back to the first station for retesting. The separation of testing and repairs was intended in part to cut down on possible fraud by test-and-repair stations.
In the latest version, the Senate-Assembly conference committee has ordered a tripling of the number of “Gold Shield” stations where autos can be tested, repaired under a guarantee and certified. Eventually all Gold Shield stations would provide all three functions. This means fewer autos would have to be tested and repaired in different places.
The committee also established a program permitting low-income auto owners--those earning less than 175% of the federal poverty level--to receive up to $200 from the state to make repairs, an incentive to be tested rather than seek a hardship waiver from the program, which is also allowed. The maximum that can be charged to make a car comply with Smog Check II is $450.
This is not an ideal solution: There is none. But the compromise would reduce customer inconvenience and keep California on track to meeting federal Clean Air Act standards. The full Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson both should support the program.