The Smog‐​Reduction Road: Remote Sensing vs. The Clean Air Act

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The 1992 amendments to the Clean Air Act mandated thatlocal governments that violate federal ozone (urban smog)standards abide by a dizzying array of regulations, many ofthe most controversial of which--centralized state inspectionand maintenance programs, carpooling requirements, zero-emission vehicle sales quotas, use of alternative fuels, andnew-vehicle emission standards--are intended to controlautomobile emissions.

Both empirical evidence and candid reflection suggestthat current approaches to vehicle pollution are extremelyinefficient, economically costly, and of only limited help inimproving air quality. The use of remote sensors, mobile,roadside emission-sensing devices, could do more to improveair quality than all other approaches combined at only afraction of the cost. Moreover, a remote-sensing programwould embody the concept that the polluter--not society atlarge--should pay for pollution. But remote sensing islargely neglected by the Clean Air Act.

A detailed examination of how such a program could beimplemented in Los Angeles indicates that remote sensingwould prove far more effective and about five times lesscostly than the current decentralized inspection and maintenance program, known as Smog-Check.

Accordingly, Congress should amend the Clean Air Act toallow states to adopt remote-sensing programs in place of theunpopular and less effective programs currently required bythe act. Such a reform would be a boon to drivers everywhereand would better meet environmental goals.

Daniel B. Klein and Pia Maria Koskenoja

Daniel B. Klein is an assistant professor of economics and Pia Maria Koskenoja is a doctoral student of transportation economics at the University of California, Irvine.