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SMOG PLAN UNDER FIRE; CAR PROGRAM SAID TO CREATE MORE POLLUTION.

Byline: Deborah Sullivan Daily News Staff Writer

A committee of the South Coast Air Quality Management District board is calling for quick action to overhaul a program that lets companies purchase smog credits created by junking old cars instead of cutting their own pollution.

Friday's decision followed complaints by the Rule 1610 program's chief inspector and other critics that the program actually increases smog.

``Within the next 60 days or so, hopefully, this will go before the whole board,'' acting Executive Director Barry Wallerstein said.

The expedited action reflects concerns about a program that has been plagued by lawsuits by an environmental group and scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has refused to approve the 5-year-old rule.

By junking old vehicles, the district says, it has kept more than 33 million pounds of toxic chemicals and soot out of the air. Companies required to clean up their own air pollution can buy credits for smog decreases achieved by the scrapping program instead.

But critics feel those numbers are inflated, and that the real amount of smog reduced may be much less.

``It's impossible for anyone to make a sound estimate of how much pollution has been removed,'' said Bruce Lohmann, the program's chief inspector.

Most companies using scrap credits do so in place of implementing ride-sharing programs that might have removed 115,000 cars from freeways in the Los Angeles Basin.

The pollution they cause is supposed to be offset by removing the older cars. But critics say the cars being scrapped are so battered that they can barely be driven, and almost certainly wouldn't be on the road another three years, as the rule requires. So the pollution credits they generate may be overvalued, allowing companies to keep polluting without really eliminating smog elsewhere.

Lohmann and other critics charge that while Rule 1610 requires that scrapped vehicles be inspected to ensure they are still in working order, the rules aren't strict enough. A car must drive backward and forward, start and stop, be properly registered and have all its parts. But cars that meet those rules don't necessarily have three years of usable life left, they argue.

After complaints about the rule, the air-quality district convened a group of staff members to evaluate it. On Friday the district recommended requiring third-party inspections of vehicles before scrapping, specifying that a vehicle leaking fluids, emitting smoke or making unusual noises cannot be accepted, and re-examining and possibly reducing the value of the credits issued.

One of the biggest scrappers in the program is the Sun Valley-based Old Vehicle Clearinghouse, which has sold credits to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Warner Bros. and Saint Joseph Medical Center, among others. Jon Owyang, president of the Old Vehicle Clearinghouse, defended the rule.

``I feel that the rule as currently structured is in fact reducing air emissions, and it's doing it on a cost-effective basis,'' he said.

District board member and Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents the East Valley, said the program is due for change.

``I think that the program, at a minimum, could be greatly improved in ensuring that the cars that are being scrapped are indeed road-worthy,'' he said.

FROM SCRAP TO SMOG CREDIT

Rideshare aims to get cars off the road and smog out of the air, but 289 of 1,600 companies buy smog credits instead of organizing car pools. So 115,000 cars that would have been removed by car pooling remain on the highway. Critics of AQMD's scrapping rule say the credits purchased don't equal the amount of smog those cars emit.

Rideshare

Taking an average car off the road through car pooling reduces this much air pollution a year.

13 lbs: nitrous oxide

17 lbs: volatile organic chemicals

132 lbs: carbon monoxide

Credits

AQMD estimates that scrapping a car built between 1975 and 1981 removes this much air pollution over three years - the amount of time the car is expected to stay on the road.

75 lbs: nitrous oxide

96 lbs: volatile organic chemicals

960 lbs: carbon monoxide

Cars scrapped

A company with 300 employees must reduce 100 car trips per day under Rideshare. Or it can purchase credits created by 14 to 18 scrapped cars built between 1975 and 1981 to compensate for the pollution those 100 newer cars emit in a year.

SOURCE: AQMD

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

PHOTO Old Vehicle Clearinghouse inspector Arthur Barrera looks under a 1975 AMC Hornet brought in by Armen Ashchian.

David Sprague/Daily News

BOX: FROM SCRAP TO SMOG CREDIT (see text)

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 25, 1998
Words:755
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