By on August 22, 2017

vehicles air pollution smog,Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

Despite aggressive regulatory efforts to counter pollution, California emissions from on-road transportation rose by roughly 4.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015 vs one year earlier, according to the San Francisco-based non-profit Next 10. The state also had the dubious honor of housing six of the country’s 10 most polluted cities, based on data from the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report released last April.

While topography plays a major role (cities located in valleys and basins have a tendency to trap air pollutants), much of the problem has to do with Californians driving more. Let’s face it, gas is cheap and public transit options are typically the less-enjoyable option in all but the most densely packed cities. In fact, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation has seen declining ridership over the last two years — even though the city has a major issue with traffic.

Advocates for stringent fuel economy standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates claim the state should tighten the rules and enforce stricter ordinances. The strategy is something Governor Jerry Brown and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols both appear to be in favor of.

Next 10’s report, cited by Bloomberg, indicated that motorists have been clocking more miles and state residents have abandoned public transportation. The one-two punch lessened California’s total greenhouse gas emissions decrease for 2015 at less than half the rate of the prior year.

“Transportation sector emissions vastly outweigh other carbon-producing areas of California’s economy,” Adam Fowler, an analyst at Beacon Economics, the research and consulting firm that compiled Next 10’s California Green Innovation Index, said in a statement. “The recent spike should alert policy-makers that despite our best efforts, more must be done.”

The spike accounted for a 3.1 percent increase in tailpipe exhaust from motor vehicles in 2015. But total greenhouse gas emissions fell by roughly 0.34 percent, according to the report.

With the Trump administration hoping to roll back Obama-era emission agreements, California has dug in its heels — vowing to maintain present-day goals, regardless of what the restructured Environmental Protection Agency decides to do. In March, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to move ahead with progressively stricter tailpipe emissions laws, along with a separate mandate that requires automakers to sell more zero-emissions vehicles within the state.

“What were you thinking when you threw yourself on the mercy of the Trump administration to solve your problems?” Nichols asked automakers leading up to the vote.

President Trump issued a soft promise to industry executives at the beginning of the year, explaining he would convince the EPA to weaken existing regulations to defend American jobs and bolster automotive productivity. Currently under review, the EPA is expected to make a final decision on the rules by year’s end.

However, in spite of California’s longstanding zero-emission vehicle mandates, transportation still accounted for 38.5 percent of the state’s total emissions in 2015 — much more than any other sector. Last year, Governor Brown signed legislation requiring the state to reduce its CO2 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels before 2030.

[Image: Union of Concerned Scientists]

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71 Comments on “The Smog State: Vehicle Emissions Still Rising in California, Despite Regulations...”


  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Hey, not to nitpick, but CO2 and smog aren’t really related. In auto exhaust the smog contributors are nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, soot, and sulfur compounds. As older vehicles continue to disappear from California roads (Murilee has evidence!), the above factors may be getting better even if more fuel is burned, which is all that CO2 emissions tell us.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      This.

      Let’s not handwave “emissions” as if smog has anything to do with CO2 (which is simply a factor of *how much fuel is burnt*, since it’s the carbon from fuel combining with oxygen from the atmosphere and being exhausted).

      (And let’s also not use images from the UCS, which is a naked interest group, not a scientific body, despite its name, please?)

      If we look at, for example, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (http://www.aqmd.gov/home/library/air-quality-data-studies/historical-data-by-year), we can compare the latest (2016) with the earliest (2000) data; let’s check the top row, “Central LA”.

      We can see the maximum CO level going from 7ppm (1 hr) to 1.9ppm.

      We can see ozone going from .14 to .103 max (8 days exceeding .09 to 2 days).

      We see N2O going from .16 ppm to 64.7 ppb, which is … .0647 ppm.

      We see S20 increasing (?) from .010 ppm to 13.4 ppb (.0134 ppm).

      On the second page for each (let’s keep this short), we see significant improvements in particulates and lead, too.

      In other words, *vastly improving* air quality, except for a weird flutter in S2O, which might not be real, since the 2000 dataset wasn’t a full year.

      Exactly the opposite of what is implied in the parent post.

      • 0 avatar
        carlisimo

        Thanks for putting those numbers together. Personally, I’m not seeing any increase in smog.

        But we’re busier than ever in terms of jobs, and the housing crisis means people are moving farther out and living with a long commute. So no surprise that we’re driving more.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          there’s been a housing crisis in los angeles since I can remember. rent control placed back in the seventies was a first major sign.

          and since i can remember they have been driving home builders and buyers out to the far/high desert.

          since nobody young can afford to buy a home, you rent or move far out and drive.

          and I didn’t know there were so many new jobs being created. not high paying, anyways.

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        So, is it time to rename the site yet?

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Well, maybe so. But if the car had nothing to do with the socal smog, why did they start such anti smog car regulations for the last 40 years?

        And even if no such correlation, I still enjoy mist Calif crisis due to their smugness. Having had a business in los Angeles and lived there along with family for since the mid seventies, it is laughable watching the Hippocrates.

        From watering driveways instead of sweeping in a water limited state to having the most SUV sales (I think it still sells the most Ford Flex) and more freeways than streets, they practice the lives of twisted fantasy.

        We are talking about people who preach acceptance and change every part of their body for fashion.

        This is as fun as watching anti Trump madness.

      • 0 avatar
        kosmo

        This comment is a better “article” than the one it is commenting on!

        Ed, could we get a source for that picture?!

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      What were you thinking when you relied on Jerry Brown to define your pollutants?

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Truckducken, I don’t think it’s nitpicking to point out that carbon dioxide isn’t a precursor to smog and producing more carbon dioxide tells us very little about air pollution in California. The article is a word salad of unrelated pieces of information.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Bingo.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      <>>

      Really ? You’ll find they are inextricably related. Back to school.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Pull every diesel, car or truck, over 20 years old off the road. Start a statewide “cash for smoke belchers” program.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      I don’t have data, but in my observations–I live in the SV and travel to the CV and elsewhere in the state regularly–there aren’t very many ‘over 20 years old’ cars in CA.

      Every few years, I get a letter encouraging me to ‘recycle’ my Healeys, but the letters say “Nevermind if it’s an old collectible.” They’ll have to kill me to get my Healeys.

    • 0 avatar
      duncanator

      I think California should first start with yearly vehicle inspections. Every single day on my commute I see vehicles on the road that are so smashed up that I can’t believe they still move. Just yesterday, I was next to a newer car where every single panel on it was dented. It was amazing.
      Plus, nearly every day I see cars that have taped bumpers and lights, even though the lights don’t work. I wish they would fix them before they end up in the median.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “The spike accounted for a 3.1 percent increase in tailpipe exhaust from motor vehicles in 2015.”

    Oh your god, deploy FEMA and suspend Habeas Corpus as a result of this disaster.

    So lately you’ve been all “resist the feds” so how about looking into those failed radiation sensors, Governor? Shouldn’t this be a priority in light of Fukushima, an active Diablo Canyon, and the San Onofre decommission?

    “A Google News search shows that the EPA’s struggles with RadNet have been covered elsewhere in the past. In February 2013 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that RadNet “was in disarray when radiation began spewing from Fukushima” and that “fully 20 percent of RadNet monitors across the United States were inoperative, and had been for an average of 130 days.””

    http://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.5.8145/full/

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Look, Jerry’s got a legacy to leave behind. Better to wrap himself in lots of green cred and HSR project work (that isn’t really high speed) than to deal with more critical issues like where to store spent radiation fuel rods.

      Priorities and all.

      • 0 avatar

        … or update the state’s water supply infrastructure to reflect its doubled population so residents don’t have to deal with a repetition of the recent drought. That makes too much sense and would antagonize Brown’s base.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        One would think the PRK greenie drones would care about nuclear issues. Maybe that’s too 80s?

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        JB is the worst governor in the history of CA – but he did hand the state over to the public employee unions during his first term and that’s the reason CA will see endless tax increases to fund the $1 trillion pension gap:
        “If pension debt is $1 trillion or more, as the new actuarial study suggests, it threatens to overwhelm state and local governments, crowding out vital public services. And without being addressed, it grows by millions of dollars a day.

        If elected officials and pension fund overseers don’t do something about it, voters will someday have the last word via a ballot measure.”
        http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/dan-walters/article100871752.html
        Those unions gladly took taxpayer financed pay increases to fund the Dem party. That’s the kind of recycling Dems are experts at. Scalia died one week before the SCT was going to put to kibash to that.

        JB’s legacy has been to neglect public infrastructure – water and roads – and to fund the worst state boondoggle in US history – the fraudulent high speed rail project. His successor will cancel the project because it’s insane to all but JB Dems.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “Those unions gladly took taxpayer financed pay increases to fund the Dem party.”

          This is brilliant because they used the union they control as an intermediary so it is nice and legal (for some reason). I’m sure funds will make it to their fascist street fighters to hurt more innocent people while feigning self defense.

          “Scalia died one week before the SCT was going to put to kibash to that.”

          Funny that.

          “the fraudulent high speed rail project”

          Black budget.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I personally think all Californians should donate their motor vehicles to us folks living in areas where air pollution is not a problem, and ride bicycles or public transportation.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I had the exact same reaction. CO2 emissions aren’t the cause of smog. Cars today ARE substantially cleaner than cars made 20 years ago. However, it seems to me that this rise in CO2 mirror what we see around the rest of the country. People are buying more cars and trucks and fewer small cars. Gas is cheap, so public transit is even less attractive of an option and people drive more. Those larger vehicles create more CO2 since they burn more fuel, all else equal, but that isn’t the same as saying they cause smog.

    I’m all for air we can breath and not all dying from rising oceans. I just wonder if stricter emissions regulations are really going to help much. It seems we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve exceeded the laws of deminishing returns on ICE emissions. It would probably be cheaper to just give people who drive 30+ year old gas guzzlers and gross emitters a new Ford Focus as a free trade relative to the pollution it would remove. It might help sell more cars, too. People who use those old cars as transportation (as opposed to weekend fun/toys) aren’t the ones able to buy something new and cleaner. Add in more state-specific emissions regulations for tiny incremental improvements and the costs just go up more.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but short of switching to electric propulsion, is there much more emissions benefit to eek out of regular gasoline engines?

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      Actually cars are not really that much cleaner today than they were 20 years ago. (By then they were pretty much all fuel-injected with 3-way catalytic converters.) We long ago reached the point of diminishing returns.

      There are so few older vehicles in daily use that there is no reason to be concerned about them, nor is there any reason for a forced wholesale conversion to electric vehicles.

      CO2 is not a pollutant. I wouldn’t worry about dying from “rising oceans” due to vehicle exhaust. Climate change is a natural phenomenon that is going to occur no matter what we do or don’t do. If the oceans are going to rise there is nothing we’re able to do that is going to stop that from happening.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Truth.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        2manycars, new cars produce less pollution from a cold start than cars did 20 years ago and 20 year old cars produce more pollution now than they did when they were new. Not sure if new cars passing tougher government pollution tests results in significantly lower smog levels.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        “Climate change is a natural phenomenon that is going to occur no matter what we do or don’t do. If the oceans are going to rise there is nothing we’re able to do that is going to stop that from happening”

        You were doing alright until here. A lie told with confidence a thousand times is still a lie, a lie labelled as an alternative fact is still a lie, and a lie told to keep a worldview intact is still a lie. But hey, we now live in a world where facts we don’t like are fake news and where concern over government policy qualifies one to speak with the authority of a PhD on complicated principles they don’t understand and didn’t previously care about, so WTF do I know?

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          I’m sure you are aware that we’re in a brief interglacial period in which sea level has already risen 400 feet, and that we are destined for another 100,000+ year glacial period in the near future. Please point out on the following plot where in recent earth history you would have liked for the climate to simply stop changing, and how you would propose to enforce that.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eemian#/media/File:All_palaeotemps.svg

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            I’m sure you are aware that rate of change matters, climate change science isn’t arguing for static climate trends, and that anyone can cherry-pick fun facts from the internet but that sh*t didn’t work to disprove the Theory of Evolution or lend any credence to man forgetting to load dinosaurs onto Noah’s Ark. Wait, maybe you don’t know that.

            Please point out your personal qualifications that allow you to refute the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, with bonus points awarded to any contrary published work that you contributed to yourself.

            I’m not asking anyone to believe me, I’m asking them to believe the people who have a clue on the matter. And to separate their fear of what the government might do from the actual science. You’d make far better progress and maintain a shred of intellectual honesty if you just said “look, I have no reason to doubt the scientific conclusions, but I just don’t think it is worth the sacrifice in our quality of life to enact strict CO2 emissions caps and disadvantage ourselves on the world economic stage when other countries won’t make the same commitment.”

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            30-mile, you get it. Critical thinking and good solid data will get you to the truth. The deniers can say all they want but the facts speak for themselves.

            Regarding the smog in California, I have to note that over 60% of emissions come from non-transportation sources…perhaps taking a look at those sources might find that cleaning those up would be easier and cheaper than chasing ever tighter tailpipe emissions. For cars I think more can be had from making the emission equipment more durable so they can have a 100K warranty on emission equipment. I know that does not really apply in CA as dirty cars don’t pass but I believe that cleaning up the dirtiest 10% of the fleet would be more beneficial than increasing the tailpipe standard for new cars.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Ah yes, that’s about what I expected from your type: insinuations that I’m some sort of religious science-denier, along with the presumption that one needs credentials to have a discussion. This, despite the fact that you entered the discussion with a generic rant while providing no credentials or facts yourself.

            This world has changed far more quickly and dramatically, many times during human and hominin history, than that which is predicted by the effect of rising anthropogenic CO2 levels.

            But go on patting yourself on the back because you think that if you preach the good word and reduce your share of the ridiculous levels of western resource consumption by 5% that it will make some difference.

        • 0 avatar

          Belief does not create truth. Unbelief does not destroy truth.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Who can argue against DRL’s when seeing this photo?

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      I can. A deceptive photo is not an argument for DRL. I’m just not going to, because DRL — properly implemented, and not just half-bright high beams — is not a bad idea. But this fakery only works to destroy the credibility of the DRL side.

      • 0 avatar
        Tosh

        That photo is NOT California.

        • 0 avatar
          carguy67

          Where was it taken? Looks like LA, or possibly the SV to me, but since I can’t read the signs I can’t tell for sure.

          • 0 avatar
            Pete Zaitcev

            Hard to say. Definitely not California, because California requires front license plates. Otherwise, it’s a stock photo that circulates among the leftist sites. The earliest I was able to find was “MIT News” from 2013. They obtained the image from a company known as “istock”, a subsidiary Getty Images. Internet search cannot tell us where Getty got it. Next, it popped at the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2014, who also cropped and stretched the image. Everyone else is stealing from UCS, even EPA did.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      Heh… instead of fog lights, there should be a new option called smog lights.

      I was just in LA as part of a drive to San Francisco and then to Lincoln City, Oregon to catch the solar eclipse. It was my first time in LA, and traffic was worse than NY. I was also sneezing my head off in LA, apparently allergic to something there. As we moved northward, toward cleaner air, the symptoms cleared up.

      BTW, the eclipse was spectacular. Seen in person, you experience the growing darkness, a drop in temperature, and the reactions of animals. Some could even see the stars at totality.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    Slightly off-topic, but didn’t the president vow to issue an executive order directing the EPA to rescind California’s exemption from the federal Clean Air Act standards?

  • avatar
    Fred

    This is all my fault. I brought my rich running Weber carbed Elan from Texas and drive it all over the Sierras. I’m as liberal as they come but that Elan makes me forget all about politics.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Polsky appears to be completely clueless about CO2 having nothing to do with pollution. Missing it once might have been oversight, but the article makes these inferences in several places.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      It’s soda bubbles, dude! It makes my coke taste fresher and better. And if it should happen to make the world a bit warmer…. that will just make a cold coke tast better still!

      More seriously, by running around pretending soda bubble is some sort of unimaginable horror, the focus of places like CARB and it’s like, which used to be on pragmatic air quality improvement, has now instead shifted to silly religious wars.

  • avatar

    The picture looks more like the marine layer than smog. Smog is brown. L.A. often get morning clouds off the ocean which is called a marine layer.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s because California is filled with Republicans and their SUVs.

    Here in Pennsylvania (where we “cling to our guns and religion”) the air is sweet and clean.

    Joking aside, here in the Pittsburgh area, air pollution is a non-issue any more. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, there was a pollution hazard warning almost every night on the news. My father – who worked in the (former) steel mills – said that when you could smell the air that meant the mills were making money. It was true.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The photos of the air in Pittsburgh from the coal burning era to now is nothing short of breathtaking. This is one city that has done remarkably well reinventing itself. Why anybody would want to bring that back is beyond belief.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Of course pollution is worse. Otherwise our regulatory overlords might find themselves out of work.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    brn

    A little population control is in order.

  • avatar
    Dan

    All of California’s year to year fluctuations in carbon emissions, and for that matter all of California’s carbon emissions at all, don’t even round up to an asterisk against what’s going on in the developing world. India alone has added an entire California’s worth of yearly carbon emissions in the past four years. They’ll add another California’s worth in the next four years. China has added FIFTEEN California’s worth of emissions in the past 15 years.

    All of which is to say that should Global Soda Bubbles turn out to actually be harmful, and not just the PR campaign for more crony capitalism that they so far appear to be, we are truly fooked.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Eh, we still managed to emit 20% as much CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases as India did in 2015 (most recent numbers I could find), with 3% of their population. And that includes a 10% dip in greenhouse gas emissions from our peak, despite a constantly growing population. A lot of that was due to the recession, but we’ve recovered from that fairly well and are still emitting less than before.

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “… with 3% of their population.”

        This is an increasingly popular spin to obscure the simple math that carbon is truly out of our Western hands. But, but, per capita!

        The carbon released by people who breed like rats has exactly the same atmospheric effects as the carbon released by people who don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Master Baiter

        “Eh, we still managed to emit 20% as much CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases as India did in 2015 (most recent numbers I could find), with 3% of their population.”

        So the population of India is 10.7 billion? Wow, you climate alarmists really can’t do math, can you?

        The actual fraction is about 25%, so you’re only off by an order of magnitude.
        .
        .

  • avatar
    Null Set

    A few corrections. Bus ridership in LA has declined a bit over the past few years, but only because more and faster new rail options have come online, and people have flocked to them. For example, the Expo Line was completed spring of last year, running from downtown LA all the way to Santa Monica and the beach. It is packed all the time. Likewise the Purple subway line is being extended all the way down Wilshire Nlvd. to West LA. Other rail and subway expansions of similar scope are underway.

    And there’s simply no comparison between the air quality here today and 20 years ago. Back then I couldn’t even go to Wilshire and Robertson without having to turn back because the air was unbreathable. Today it’s perfectly fine.

    Two other factors have contributed that have nothing to do with CARB. First, LA’s population has exploded over the last 15 years. The city of LA now has 4 million people. When I moved here in 2000 it had 3.3 million. Secondly, along with that rise rents have skyrocketed, pricing many working people out of the area. They have had to move far outside the area to find affordable housing, which means they now commute much longer distances, thus adding to air pollution.

  • avatar
    zip89123

    As a former resident of California, all I can say is this is good news, the powers that be reap what they sow. I could give lots of reasons why this happens, but I’d be wasting my time talking to Democrats & greenies. Keep those borders open California and give everyone sanctuary!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    You know, I thought I’d give the new EIC a chance and see if TTAC would move past red-meat clickbait…

    …and not so much. I don’t actually mind politics in discussions at all, but what I’ve seen a lot of is either a) appeals to wounded masculinity, or b) posts that have a (hopefully deliberate) casual relationship with facts. Or both.

    I opened this, read the illusory correlation of CO2 and smog and the veiled California kicking, saw the comments I expected to see, sighed, and moved on.

    Come on TTAC, you can do better.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      These pieces serve a useful function – they aggregate Trump supporters and climate-change deniers in the virtual world in the same way that Trump’s Phoenix rally aggregated them in the physical world.

      Knowledge is power.

  • avatar
    hpycamper

    Smog, the unhealthy byproduct of mixing fuel and fire. What do we call the unhealthy byproduct of mixing science and politics?

  • avatar
    phreshone

    California… In the words of Harry Reid, “The War is Lost”

    Time for the Lex Luthor Solution to the California Issue

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