Saturday, May 17, 2008
In Search of Clean Air
The first time I visited El Pueblo de Los Angeles was in 1961, which happened to be the same year I graduated High school. I had just finished boot camp in San Diego and came to LA to visit my grandparents, who had moved here several years earlier.
Gramp took me downtown one day, sightseeing. We also cruised through Hollywood and Beverly Hills. One of the most memorable things was the foulness of the air. It was a hot day, and it seemed like it was foggy. It wasn't fog. The smog was a palpable thing. It smelled, made my eyes water and caused occasional coughing jags.
Five years later, my new bride and I drove into LA on a rainy September day, to better our lives. A mere few days later, after the unseasonable rain cleared out and it became hot and sunny, the smog closed in once again.
I eventually got used to it, though from time to time it became too obvious to ignore. The sun was dull in the sky. From a window fourteen or so stories up, the ground couldn't be seen. Buildings looked like they grew out of fog. It wasn't fog. Once, I flew into LAX on a hot, sunny day. LA looked like a sea of fog with several dozen of its taller buildings sticking out.
Over the years since, the state has created many thousands of laws designed to fight smog. Most of them merely served to help impoverish the less well off in California, but some of them actually worked. The state faltered, stumbled and spent billions, most of it wasted, but in the past ten years the smog has been lessened to a degree that it isn't so much noticed anymore.
Oh, I won't say the air's clean. Not exactly. There's still noticeable smog, occasionally, in the east at the San Bernardino foothills, but nothing like it was.
One could say that we ought to stand pat. The free market (if it were allowed to work) would supply us with a cheap, clean replacement for the gasoline-powered engine, eventually.
The point of this little history lesson? Several years ago, in spite of the rational arguments of many, the evil and stupid California Air Resources Board (CARB), decided that raw gasoline, evaporating into the atmosphere, was a major cause of smog--the same smog that was even then a diminishing problem. After much experimentation, testing, bribery of CARB officials and state legislators, the state was divided into zones. One zone was the San Diego, LA, western San Bernardino and Riverside counties and the San Francisco area. The other, the rest of the state.
The urban areas were to use a very expensive fueling nozzle that picked up all the fuel vapors during pumping and stored them in the underground fuel tank. It was called a vapor recovery system. Fuel delivery trucks also had a complex, expensive dual-hose system that returned the vapors to the truck tank as the underground tank was filled.
All was again right with the world.
The rest of the state eventually was required to implement a fuel recovery system as well, but it remains far less ponderous and expensive than its urban counterpart.
CARB officials and state legislators were wearing Ace bandages on their wrists and elbows for months, from slapping each other on the back.
So, the war on smog is over, right? Not, as they say in Boulder City, Nevada, by a damsite.
As long as there is one molecule of a substance that can be called a pollutant, hovering over any part of the state of California, Sacramento will keep giving CARB tens (at least) of millions of dollars a year to chase it.
Meanwhile, they're ignoring the fact that their precious vapor recovery system doesn't work. It's worse than the old way--putting the bare hose nozzle into an open fuel tank and letting the vapors go where they will. Now, instead of a little vapor escaping into the air, the high-priced, overly-complex nozzles spit out the best part of a pint of liquid gasoline all over the rear of your car, and on the pavement underneath, where it's free to evaporate over the following few minutes. This, of course, is a pint of the four-dollar-a gallon gas that you pay for. They do this, just about invariably, when the stream clicks off as your tank fills. At times, the nozzle actually pops out of your car, falling 'pon the pavement and spilling even more liquid gasoline under the rear of your car.
CARB won't do anything about this, because to them, it's a done job. To them, no more gasoline vapor is escaping into the air. And so it goes.
You can't trust any air you can't see.