Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Smog Plan Drives Motorists to Protest Car Culture, Environmental Concerns Collide as State Cracks Down on 'Gross Polluters'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Smog Plan Drives Motorists to Protest Car Culture, Environmental Concerns Collide as State Cracks Down on 'Gross Polluters'

Article excerpt

Choked by some of the worst smog in the nation, California officials thought they had come up with a promising route to clean up the air - cracking down on the worst-polluting cars.

But the aggressive new program is running into speed bumps on the road to reality. Radio talk show hosts have led an effort to crush it by raising fears of an Orwellian government swooping down to confiscate cars - a scenario that government officials insist will never happen.

The controversy is just the latest in an enduring battle over how far California should go in cleaning up its skies. As the nation's premier smog-busting laboratory, the state is being closely watched to see how it will resolve the tension between two beloved traditions here: the right to drive, unhindered, and the need to improve the environment. "It's been literally weeks of misinformation and outright falsehoods," says State Sen. Quentin Kopp, a San Francisco Independent. "They have falsely alleged that cars have been confiscated. The untruths are legion." Dubbed Smog Check II, the program represents California's effort to comply with the 1990 federal Clean Air Act signed by President Bush. The new antipollution program targets so-called "gross polluters" - vehicles that pollute two to 25 times more than average models of the same type and age - and has required owners to take them in for inspection at a government mandated garage. Cars that fail must get repairs to reduce their emissions before the California Bureau of Automotive Repair will issue their owners new car registrations. The first phase of the program, which began in June, has identified some 95,000 gross polluters. Next spring and summer, the state will launch more aggressive efforts to target car owners in the most polluted regions of the state, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and areas of the Central Valley. Using computer records and roadside infrared detectors, which snap photos of license plates, the state expects the clampdown to snare 15 percent of California's 22 million cars. In the most highly polluted areas, about 15 percent of the gross polluters will have to go to state-contracted, centralized auto shops for inspections rather than local smog shops, or garages. …

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