Commentary: Dial back on emissions testing

Those who remember the city's foul winter air of the 1980s and '90s -- a deep rush-hour breath at the intersection of Spenard and Minnesota was hazardous to your health — know why the city established the Vehicle Inspections and Maintenance Program in 1985.

We weren't meeting federal air quality standards for carbon monoxide. On cold, windless days Anchorage traffic was toxic with CO in some parts of town.

I/M testing changed that. Vehicles had to pass an emissions test before Anchorage residents could register or renew registration and legally drive them. Those that didn't had to be repaired so that they did. Thus drivers had to maintain their vehicles in good running shape. That cleared the air. Rush-hour exhaust is no healthier, but Anchorage has not violated air quality standards for CO since 1996.

Emissions testing was not the only driver, however. Technology has transformed vehicles in the last 25 years. We haven't abandoned the internal combustion engine yet, but with computer and pollution controls, we're driving vehicles that are far more efficient and far less polluting. And hybrid vehicles that pollute even less are increasingly popular.

We've already dialed back requirements for I/M testing. In 2008, when a new Assembly reversed a decision to scrap the program, newer cars didn't have to be tested until they were 4 years old. Beginning this year, vehicles don't have to be tested until they are 6 years old. So that 2006 rig isn't due until 2012.

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