Thursday, May 4, 2006
Many environmentalists and libertarians would prefer that the typical American remain ignorant about the extradordinary success of the federal Clean Air Act, which over the past 36 years has dramatically improved air quality in the United States. Environmentalists would rather that citizens not become complacent about dirty air, while libertarians prefer to focus on the supposedly excessive cost of complying with the complex statute.
A debate that hasn’t gotten much attention this year is a controversy over proposed air pollution controls for lawnmowers. California, whose politics favors tougher air pollution controls than does national politics, has proposed a new rule to require a catalytic converter for new mowers. Advocates point out that, for a gallon of gas, current lawnmowers add 93 times (curiously, 1 millionth of the distance in miles to the sun …) more smog-creating pollution than do typical cars. Manufacturers point out, also correctly, that there are a lot fewer mowers than cars and that they are run a lot less often. Lawnmower pollution is a mere ladle in the bucket of vehicle pollution. But does that justify avoiding pollution reduction?
The arguments against controls echo those made back in the ‘70s and ‘80s against auto regulations. Air bags? The public doesn’t want to pay an extra 500 bucks, the manufacturers said. Require unleaded gas? Cars won’t run as well, they said. But these protections were imposed and the public has adapted quite well. Taking the lead out of gasoline has removed more than 90 percent of the lead from the nation’s air. Today, lawnmower manufacturers warn that converters might cause fires (a risk that an EPA study says is minimal) and would increase the price of new mowers. So far, it looks as if Congress is in no rush to impose the pollution reduction technology for the entire nation. Once again, law balks when environmental protection asks for small sacrifices in the land use of the average citizen ...