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Clean-Air Law Extended to Bay Area

Bills: The region, whose auto exhaust pollutes Central Valley, will be subject to Smog Check 2.


SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis on Friday signed legislation abolishing a controversial exemption and subjecting San Francisco Bay Area motorists to the same clean-air rules of Smog Check 2 that apply to millions of other drivers in the state.

Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) said his bill would make the Central Valley a healthier place because it would combat the flow of "secondhand smog" that prevailing winds blow from the Pacific Ocean over the coastal mountain range and into the geographical trough from Sacramento to Fresno.

Cardoza, who led a six-year campaign to protect the valley from vehicle-caused air pollution, praised Davis' signature on his bill, AB 2637, as a victory for "environmental justice." Davis called it a "historic day." But no Bay Area legislator attended the bill-signing ceremony.

Asked about their absence, Davis sidestepped a direct answer, saying he believes they understand the "simple fairness" of extending the strict auto emission and intensified inspection standards to the San Francisco Bay region.

For years, regions with the state's dirtiest air, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and Sacramento, have been subject to the strict standards of Smog Check 2 as California struggled to comply with federal clean-air laws.

In the meantime, powerful political forces in the Bay Area, one of California's most densely populated and industrially developed regions, managed to hold back imposition of Smog Check 2.

They argued the program was not needed because prevailing winds from the ocean cleansed Bay Area skies and blew its air pollution elsewhere, mainly to the sprawling Central Valley.

But clean-air advocates complained it was unfair and unhealthy for the valley to serve as a dump site for the San Francisco region's air pollutants, especially when Bay Area motorists were exempt from the toughest smog requirements.

Under Smog Check 2, vehicles must be inspected and tested every two years and upon change of ownership. Vehicles that fail must be repaired and retested before they can be registered, a process that can be expensive, even with built-in safeguards to mitigate costs.

Davis estimated that 4.5 million additional vehicles will be tested starting Jan. 1. That, he said, will result in a daily reduction of 10 tons of reactive organic gases and 16 tons of oxides of nitrogen, each a precursor to smog, and a decrease of 640 pounds a day of benzene, a carcinogen.

The governor also signed bills banning the sale to minors of dietary supplements containing the stimulant ephedra. The measures will require more direct warning labels, and require that manufacturers place a toll-free number on packages so consumers can report ill effects to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Davis had concluded in 2000 that regulation of such products was a federal issue, after Metabolife Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of such products, donated $150,000 to the governor. On Friday, Davis chided the federal government as he signed the bills, SB 1884 by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and SB 1948 by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont).

"While [regulation] of dietary supplements and interstate commerce is the responsibility of the federal government," Davis said in a signing message, "Californians can't wait for federal action that is too long overdue."

The governor also signed legislation that originated from proposals submitted by Californians in a competition called "There Oughta be a Law," an annual contest sponsored by Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

One winner, AB 2474, will require manufacturers of antifreeze to add a bitter taste agent to their poisonous product so that children and pets will not drink it. The idea came from nurse Lauren Ward of Cupertino, who spent $10,000 and two weeks of her time last year investigating what made the family puppy sick. She finally determined it was antifreeze, which has a sweet taste.

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