Breathe easier with emissions legislation

Let us all give thanks for our automobiles.

Without them, how could we drive to City Hall

to complain about traffic?

Perhaps no other product of the industrial age has so

radically reshaped our society and culture, producing more or less contemporaneously the drive-thru restaurant, the suburbs, the war for oil, and the cure for the midlife crisis.

As these are mixed blessings at best, several generations of thinkers have had considerable fun at the automobile’s expense. Consider this observation by Will Rogers (gleaned from a website devoted to such witticisms): “We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poorhouse in an automobile.” Or this, from Changing Times magazine: “In an underdeveloped country, don’t drink the water; in a developed country, don’t breathe the air.” Even the late Bob Marley was apparently forced to reevaluate his choice of rides after fame pulled up and parked itself in his garage (assume a Jamaican accent for this one): “I drive a jeep. An old jeep, so nobody will say I’m driving a BMW anymore. I couldn’t stand that BMW, ha ha ha! BMW make pure trouble!”

While we won’t begrudge any of our upscale island neighbors their choice of hood ornaments, the implications of that second observation – smog – are worth considering. Long the bane of our neighbors two states to the south, increased traffic in the Puget Sound region now produces an occasional haze around majestic Mount Rainier. Our noxious exhausts pose a well-established array of environmental and health threats – from respiratory problems to heart conditions – for the populace. One may lament, as did Robert Orben: “There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs, there’d be no place to put it all.”

In such times, we were pleased to report last week on some forward-thinking legislation from newly minted state Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island), to promote cleaner skies. Senate Bill 5397 would adopt vehicle emissions standards comparable to those (belatedly) enacted in California, boosting requirements for vehicles sold or brought into this state beginning in 2009. Automakers would have to install more efficient air conditioning, engine and transmission technologies.

Short of getting more people out of the cars (perhaps the recently forecast surge in gas prices will do that), we don’t suppose we’ll be free of the fossil fuel-burning internal combustion engine in our lifetimes, at least not until the last drop of blood has been shed for the last drop of petrochemical product.

In the meantime, huzzahs to Sen. Rockefeller for recognizing the bane of the tailpipe and searching for a suitable filter, if not a cork. Like-minded constituents might call Olympia and register their support for clean air.

And consider this observation from Robert Coates: “The best, the most exquisite automobile is a walking stick; and one of the finest things in life is going on a journey with it.”

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