The Full Employment Act for Clean Air

Keeping our air clean is obviously a Herculean task. After all, if it was easy, why would we employ thousands of scientists and bureaucrats to feverishly toil away, examine every particle of air, determine if there's any harmful pollutants, and -- if any are found -- put controls on the source?

Since the state of California got involved in "air management" back in 1967 by establishing the Air Resources Board, automakers have made enormous progress in cleaning up the internal combustion engine. Today, even diesel-fueled engines run so cleanly that only specialized equipment can measure the resulting emissions. In fact, you can put your white handkerchief (if you carry such a thing) over today's diesel passenger car tailpipe, rev the engine, and it will not turn brown, grey, or any other sordid shade of soot.

We've done a fine job in emissions control, but just like our own human engines, vehicles take in oxygen and put out carbon dioxide. Then, as you'll recall from your science class, trees and plants take in the carbon dioxide and release oxygen. That's a simplification, of course, but that's the way nature and people with their transportation devices work together. Now, according to some in the scientific community -- led by a former vice president -- we're outputting way too much carbon dioxide (CO2) and if we don't cut way back, we'll overheat the planet and die. To avoid this looming disaster, we can collectively quit exhaling, but that's not a very popular approach, especially within the political class. We could replace coal-fired power plants with nuclear energy, but the Senate majority leader is afraid we'll put the waste under his Nevada residence, so that solution isn't going anywhere.

So cars have become the government's target of interest for cleaning up our Jolly Green Giant-size carbon footprint. And since every politician wants to be your friend, here's the really good news: you don't have to worry because the government will make those mean automakers build clean vehicles and we'll all live happily ever after.

Some reasonable people might wonder why we're working on the wrong end of this problem. After all, why pass laws and hire bureaucrats to tell automakers what kind of vehicles to build while allowing fuel prices to remain low? Didn't we just witness the sudden escalation in gas prices create a giant lemming-like sprint by consumers to more efficient cars? And wouldn't a simple tax on fuel keep that same public laser focused on energy efficiency while adding revenue for all those public works programs we need for stimulation?

But there's a lot at stake in this air management business. The State of California's Air Resources Board (formerly the Bureau of Air Sanitation), has mushroomed into a big bureaucracy, part of the $2.3-billion (and growing) California Environmental Protection Agency with an army of 4,500 well-paid troops to fight the evils of pollution. And although California's EPA has a global reach, with its secretary, Linda Adams, jetting to China to dine with her peers in that green country, it's not to be confused with the Federal EPA.