Yesterday, Arizona became the first state to try to opt out of the new air pollution regulations for motorcycles that are scheduled to take effect in 2010.
The new set of laws would have mandated emissions testing for bikes registered in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In a written petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality argued that only 3.5 percent of the vehicles registered in Phoenix are motorcycles; that emissions failure rates for bikes are down; and that repairs to improve motorcycle emissions do not substantially improve air quality.
Fifteen states now require emissions inspections for cars and trucks in one or more municipal areas. The states are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. Arizona would have been the first state to mandate motorcycle emissions inspections.
Last February, a California State Senator named Fran Pavley introduced Senate Bill 435 which would have mandated smog checks for motorcycles. The bill was dead by July. But, the fact that such a bill was introduced at all is a bad omen for bikers.
The new EPA regulations are intended to drastically reduce pollutants emitted by motorcycles. One admirable goal is the reduction of hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions by about half. But, the actual effect of the new regulations will probably be more harassment of bikers by police.
Anti-Social Good Bikers
For decades, helmet laws have been used as weapons against bikers. Police routinely use real or imagined helmet law violations as a pretext to stop, interrogate and search motorcyclists. For almost a decade in California and recently in Tennessee, wearing what might be the wrong kind of hat – a non-Department of Transportation approved helmet – was probable cause.
Helmet laws are intended to protect stupid bikers from their own stupid selves. The laws implicitly assume that motorcyclists do not wear helmets because they are morons. The punishments for helmet law tickets are understood to be educative. And, a social good argument has even been contrived on behalf of helmet laws.
That argument is that motorcyclists who are injured are an unfair burden on decent society because public institutions may be required to pay for their hospitalization. The argument assumes that a biker who is cut off by a drunk and crashes might have escaped serious injury if only he had worn the right kind of government approved hat.
Bikers As Polluters
In the last five years, the social good argument has been used to allege that motorcyclists are noise polluters. “Noise pollution” is generally defined to be anything louder than a dial tone, which is about 80 decibels. It is common for noise pollution opponents to describe any sound louder than 55 decibels (which is about as loud as a cat saying hello) as “harmful.”
Most of the action on noise pollution in the last year has been in Maine, where a bill is even now working its way through the state legislature that will outlaw after market motorcycle exhausts. Last summer, bikers were stopped at Maine road blocks and given “courtesy inspections” of their tail pipes. The courtesy inspections were mandatory, of course.
The new pollution standards for motorcycles are also designed to rigidly enforce social good. And, who among us, does not believe that deep down inside we are good? And also, who among us can doubt that we are all now about to get blamed for little Topher’s and little Tuscany’s asthma attacks.
Our polluting ways have already been headlines in many newspapers. For example, last summer, the influential Susan Carpenter wrote a couple of features for the Los Angeles Times that compared Harleys to Hummers and claimed that bikes are responsible for ten percent of all the pollution in California. So now, that it has been published that is an established fact.
One Law We Have Broken
It has been illegal to modify motorcycle emission control devices since 1977. In an EPA document that explains the new motorcycle standards Big Brother states:
“We are not changing existing provisions of section 203(a) of the Clean Air Act, as established in 1977, which states that it is illegal ‘for any person to remove or render
inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this title…after such sale and delivery to the ultimate purchaser….’ In other words, owners of motor vehicles cannot legally make modifications that cause the emissions to exceed the applicable emissions standards, and they cannot remove or disable emission control devices installed by the manufacturer.”
These emission devices are the exhaust and the fuel injection that now comes with your brand new motorcycle.
The problem, as you may have noticed, is that Harley-Davidsons are essentially 19th Century machines powered by two cylinder, internal combustion, gasoline powered engines. They burn gasoline. They exhaust the gases that are byproducts of burning gasoline. And the only way the manufacturer can make these things meet current pollution standards is to give them asthma – to limit the oxygen they can breathe in and the exhaust gases they can breathe out. Which is why a factory new Harley is dangerously underpowered and inefficient.
The first and simplest thing almost everybody does when they buy a new motorcycle is “let the bike breathe.” So soon bikers in at least some jurisdictions, will be guilty of breaking a whole new set of laws. Soon motorcyclists will be blamed not just for being too stupid to live unsupervised lives and for being loud show offs. Soon bikers will also be indentified as the cause of global warming.