Smog Check Needs Tune-Up

(July 25, 2010)

sun_san bernardino

July 25, 2010

The fundamental problem with the state's Smog Check program is that it uses a wide net to snag a few small fish.

That's why a bill by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-El Monte, is a good fix to an out-of-date and sometimes unfair program.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that newer cars with their sophisticated engines and emission systems pollute far, far less than older cars, which are responsible for the bulk of the dirtiest tailpipe emissions.

Eng has proposed a revision to Smog Check that adjusts the program to that reality. Assembly Bill 2289 would make it easier for newer car owners to have their cars Smog Checked, and potentially more difficult for older car owners by requiring older cars to go through Smog Check stations with higher standards and more advanced testing equipment.

The bill would also ratchet up the fines on scofflaw testing and repair stations, going from a maximum of $2,500 to $5,000.

In our region where air quality is still a major concern, the bill would reduce the amount of smog-making emissions by 70 tons per day. That's akin to taking 800,000 older cars off the road every day in California, according to the American Lung Association, which supports the measure.

We're not certain that the changes in the bill will solve all the problems with Smog Check. But this program desperately is in need of a tune-up, something that has not happened since it received a major overhaul back in 1994, and Eng's bill is one of the best to come around to accomplish just that.

We like that it requires the station technician to plug into a car's on-board diagnostic testing (known as OBD II) to make sure the emission system is performing well. The on-board diagnosis would be the only test required on vehicles made in 2000 and later. (New cars are not required to be Smog Checked for the first six years). That change alone would knock the time in half a consumer has to wait around for a technician to complete the check, says Eng. It would also reduce the price of the test from an average cost of $48 to $22.

Using a car's onboard diagnostic system makes sense. Why not use the computer that comes with the car to test its own emissions? The change would put California in line with the testing protocols used in 22 other states.

We appreciate the way the bill was debated in the Assembly and amended by the author, giving station owners more time to comply. The changes will not go into effect until January 2013. Eng's careful handling of the opposition has resulted in support from business, including the association that represents California's test-only stations. It also is supported by the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, an association of business and labor groups that represents aerospace, telecommunications, energy and automakers.

The bill is headed for the Senate Appropriations Committee. It should be approved, adopted by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor.