Sunday, January 18, 2004

(I have a raging sore throat, so husband Steve is stepping in. Props to the first guest blogger at Apt. 11D.)

Environmentalism in Washington Heights

I drive a '91 Toyota, with 184,000 miles on it. The thing will run forever. Since we live in the city, we don't use it often, but when we want to get off the island it's the best mode of transportation. Reliable, fuel efficient, easy to maintain. A Toyota is a fine car.

Last week it was my Toyota went for its annual emissions test.. Jonah (the older boy) and I went to a local garage in the next neighborhood north. One of dozens along the northernmost stretch of Broadway. They crept the car onto the rollers, chained her down, rammed the sensor up her tailpipe, turned on the computer, got behind the wheel, and away they went. The result? YOU FAIL. Why? Hydrocarbon count was too high. The limit is 0.80, and my poor car got a 0.89.

Now I had to get a tune-up. And, as it turns out, a converter. Three hundred bucks.

So last Saturday, after the tune-up and added equipment, Ian (the younger boy) and I took the car to the same place. Ahead of me was a mid-'80s Ford mini-van of some sort. "No way," I thought, "will this guy pass." And I was right. First time around the mechanic did a legitimate test. Second time around the mechanic left the sensor on the ground. That didn't work either. On the third time around, the mechanic backed a second car into the garage, crammed the sensor up its tailpipe, and then ran the test. YOU PASS!

Sheesh. I saw a couple Abe Lincolns change hands, and that's that! In Washington Heights and Inwood, that's called a "tip." But I'm not angry at the mechanic for pocketing a couple bucks. That's part of the underground economy in any neighborhood. And I'm not angry at the guy with the mini-van. His and half of the cars in Manhattan have no chance of ever passing any emissions test. A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do.

Nope, I'm pissed at Albany. With standards becoming stricter and stricter, over time it's inevitable that older models car will fail. When I explained the whole situation to my wife Laura, who's no Communist but perhaps a half-step to the right of Karl Marx, she proclaimed that "Environmentalism hurts the poor!" A good portion of society can't afford cars or repairs that meet consistently tightening requirements. Your car fails, you can't register your car, you can't drive your car, you need a new car.

So some cars will never meet state emission standards, at least without some sort of "tipping" somewhere along the line. What surprises me is that there is no grandfathering. If standards tighten each year, wouldn't it make sense to grandfather engines never designed to meet such standards in the first place? In other words, an engine built in 1986 should never be expected to meet 2003 emission standards. An engine built in 2003 would, of course, be expected to do so.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's astounding that in one generation the wildlife in the eastern part of the country has returned at an incredible rate. Northern Manhattan has a small population of bald eagles. Turkey and deer plague the suburbanite. Bear have found their way back to the Catskills. Moose are wandering about Massachusetts. Every spring and fall my local park is festooned with all sorts of migrating birds. It's not uncommon to see peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks flying over the neighborhood. Who would have believed such a thing in 1970?

But where should we draw the line? Increase emission standards and either: (1) take those standards seriously and force failing cars off the road or (2) give a wink and a nudge and keep those smoke-belchers chuffin' along. One is draconian, the other is hypocritical. I'm not sure where we stand at the moment, but I do think that, at least in New York, we've reached a point where a good number of the cars on the road are substandard. Why punish people who are trying to get by with what they can afford? Or why pass a law which nobody takes seriously?

---posted by Steve

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

< ? Redhead Blogs # >

< ? Blogging Mommies # >