Once upon a time, Anchorage had something of an air quality problem. The city is in a natural bowl, and could go days on end without any significant wind. So, despite being a smallish city (260,000) way the heck out in the middle of miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, there was something of an air pollution problem.
In 1985 the EPA imposed a bi-annual automobile emissions testing program. There is no doubting that it imposed maintenance on cars that needed it and significantly reduced pollution. In fact, Anchorage hasn't violated clean air standards since 1997.
That is all well and good, and is an argument for government programs of the sort that address individual cost-benefit disconnects (i.e., where the cost to an individual of repairing a badly running car far exceeds the consequent incremental improvement in air quality).
Unfortunately, it is also highlights the problems that invariably attends such programs: ossification, and entrenched constituencies.
WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency on [January 9th] agreed to let Anchorage end its vehicle emissions testing program after 27 years, saying all the hassle isn't necessary for air quality.
On the face of it, in the land of cause and effect, one could place emissions testing on one side, and improved air quality on the other. Unfortunately, to stop there requires completely ignoring the closed-loop integration of digital engine controls, which started in the early 1990s, and has proceeded in earnest ever since. As older vehicles became increasingly rare in the wild, failures plummeted to a rate so low that their collective impact on air quality was inconsequential.
Which means the EPA came to its conclusion two years
after the Anchorage City Council—finally yielding to reality over the imprecations of the emissions testing lobby and ecomentalists—voted to end the program a mere 13 years after the last air-quality violation.
What did this program cost?
[It required] that Anchorage drivers get their cars and trucks tested every two years and costs drivers a maximum [and minimum] of $68, depending on fees charged by the testing company. Cars up to 6 years old are exempt, as are antique cars.
Let's pull out that envelope, and turn it over. In 2003, Alaska had .4 vehicles per capita.
For Anchorage, that works out to 104,000 cars and trucks. The average age of the US automobile fleet is 10.8 years
. Without some sort of distribution to work with, guesstimation will have to do. Let's say that of those 104,000 cars, 1/3 are less than seven years old, and a vanishingly small number are older than 24. That yields 36,000 completely useless visits, 72,000 wasted hours*, and $2.5 million sacrificed to this local example of regulatory capture per year
**. In fact, given the extremely low failure rate (less than 2%, at least some of which were due to false-positive On Board Diagnostic warnings), it is at least arguable that the additional vehicle trips of the other 98% meant the emissions testing program caused more vehicle emissions than it saved.
The EPA took two years to conclude the blindingly obvious. Adding injury to injury, back in 2010, the Assembly gave the emissions testing industry a further six months after an EPA decision with which to continue fleecing the motoring public.***
Despite being a classical liberal, I must admit there are classes of problems that market economics cannot solve. Yet this microcosmic example testifies to slothful bureaucracies, egged on by those grown used to the monetary effluence, frequently serve to only to perpetuate programs long since made useless.
Why the left is unable to take this on board is as mystifying as ...
Oh. Never mind. It is no more mystifying than reflecting upon who works for the EPA.
* You show up, and wait in line. If you are lucky, than you get right in, and the test takes about a half hour, excluding transit time. In my experience, which is why I don't play the horses, two hours is a much better bet.
** The EM places get to keep 70% of this. The municipality will have to increase other fees to make up the $800,000 per year in lost revenue. further research shows the actual numbers to be 45,000 tests and $3 million per year. But having used an envelope back, I am loath to delete its sacrifice.
*** Last week, Mayor Sullivan, put immediate cessation to a vote. He reasoned that the two years the EPA took to acknowledge the readily apparent was plenty of time. He won. That vote came a week after the emissions test expired for one of my cars. And which, due to my schedule, hasn't been on the road since. Two hours and $68 I'll never get back.