Category Archives: pollution

Vision Zero PHX, was: PD: Driver kills man on sidewalk

The “Brown Cloud”, unhealthy air pollution, is a frequent visitor to Phoenix.

4/23/2019 ~ 11pm victim Thomas Taraba and another person were walking on the sidewalk along McDowell Road near 37th Street. Police say river 20-year-old Zachary Showers was the driver; he was arrested on suspicion of DUI

“According to court documents, Taraba was thrown 75 feet” indicating the driver’s speed was very fast, perhaps too fast for any city street.

Continue reading Vision Zero PHX, was: PD: Driver kills man on sidewalk

Public Safety Fee going into effect

This new and much-needed fee is the result of weak and/or duplicitous politicians who have neglected to honestly fund transportation in Arizona for decades; despite sporadic efforts that always fail in Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature. They are so stridently, and uniformly ideological that they can’t even admit that gas tax revenue, because of the way it’s structured, have been going steadily down in real terms, for well over twenty years. The same is true at the federal level as well. Continue reading Public Safety Fee going into effect

Eighth ozone pollution advisory of the season (already)

…the season apparently just started in April 2011. Pollution — nobody wants to pay…  Our state politicians want to block more stringent new-car standards. And meanwhile complain that the excessive number of alerts/advisories is caused by tightening air-quality standards.

State officials posted the Valley’s eighth ozone pollution advisory of the season Tuesday, a fact clean-air activists noted repeatedly as they argued against a plan to repeal Arizona’s vehicle-emissions rules barely six months after they took effect. Arizona’s plan to cut clean-car program criticized by activists

Summer Ozone season kicks off

Here is the obligatory pollution story:

Maricopa County’s ozone season starts today with a fresh burst of heat and sunlight, two key ingredients needed for unhealthful levels of the smog to form.

Temperatures could rise to nearly 100 degrees today as a strong high-pressure system creates the ideal conditions for ground-level ozone. The other elements – vehicle exhaust, power-plant emissions, gasoline, paint and industrial solvents – are always in abundant supply.  Read more…

My gripe? While I agree that vehicle exhaust is always in abundant supply, I don’t imagine power plants contribute any significant amount of pollution to the Phoenix area. The closest big power plant is Palo Verde nuke which is by definition smog-free. There are a bunch of small-scale power plants within the valley but they tend to be natural gas fired, which is very very clean smog-wise. The nearest big coal plant, which are among other pollutants very smoggy are hundreds (?) of miles away.

I wonder how much of smog is contributed other than from vehicle exhaust (and fueling)?? I doubt very much.


Expect extra-dirty air

You have to read between the lines to even get the hint that much (most?) of this pollution comes from vehicle use — both from entrained dust (dust that is kicked up by cars/trucks whooshing by) or emissions (NOX -> ozone, and fine particulates from combustion, particularly from “clean” diesel engines. )

Experts warn of poor Valley air quality The Arizona Republic. A familiar brown cloud is settling over a cool, dry Valley, prompting air-quality experts to warn that residents could be in for a particularly dirty winter.

Bad air expected for Valley through the holidays Bob McClay/KTAR PHOENIX — The Valley’s brown cloud season has arrived, with poor air quality that irritates respiratory systems … Mark Shaffer with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. …said the high pressure creates an air bubble that collects ozone below 5,000 feet.

For those of you who don’t follow such minutia, the Phoenix area is what is termed a “Serious Non-Attainment Area” for various forms of air pollution. This leads to, of course, some amount of human misery especially via various lung diseases, but it also brings the specter of loss of federal funds if the air isn’t cleaned up. Some local (state, or maybe county?) agency must produce a plan to clean up the air to the satisfaction of the EPA; that plan (critique here dated 9/13/2010: EPA Disapproves Air Quality Plan for Phoenix ) was rejected in part because “EPA has determined that the SIP (State Implementation Plan) over-emphasized emission reductions needed from construction-related activities and de-emphasized emission reductions from other sources”, you know,  other source like, for example, those produced as a result of using motor vehicles.

EPA Disapproves Air Quality Plan for Phoenix

Positive incentives

I thought that this story: Capital takes bag tax in stride, is an interesting example of a negative incentive. And it got me to thinking about incentives affect behavior. Incentives are entertainingly the central theme of the best selling book Freakonomics, which I disussed here.

So the story is that Washington D.C. enacted a law that mandates that anyone who sells food must charge 5 cents for each bag given. Customers can either bring their own bags, or not use a bag, or pay the nickel. There were the usual predictions of the world coming to an end, however the WSJ story claims no major disruptions have occurred, and even some who opposed the tax initially now have changed their minds.

The bags often become floating trash and muck-up the Chesapeake watershed — a negative externality. The tax is designed to cut disposable plastic bag consumption and, it is hoped, plastic bag waterway pollution by 50%.

Here where I live, we have no such bag tax, of course, but it is trendy for grocery retailers to offer customers a nickel credit for each bag brought in that is then reused — a positive incentive.

Looking around here, it is obvious that the (coincidentally) equal positive incentive has had very little impact on bag usage, whereas the incentive in D.C. has had a large impact. I’ve also noticed that initially the grocers offering the incentive volunteered the credit, and now they seem to “forget” or not notice to give the credit unless the customer points it out, and most/many aren’t likely to do that to earn a nickel or a dime.

I’m thinking there must be a lesson here for things like free parking; which is that positive incentives have little impact, while negative incentives have a huge influence on behaviors.

Little drips make a big mess

More externalities of mass motorization.

The Arizona Republic ran this USA Today story under the better-named  headline “Gulf spill can’t rival oil seepage from cities: Over time, tiny drips add major pollution to oceans”.

“Human-caused spills send more than 300 million gallons of oil into North American waters every decade, an amount roughly double the highest estimate of the BP spill”… “the largest human-caused source of oil into the environment is the byproduct of millions of autos and other oil-powered devices.”

Land-based oil spills add up, too

USA Today, 6/30/2010 Continue reading Little drips make a big mess

More on the socialized cost of parking

An integral part of unrestrained car use is having somewhere to put the darn things when we’re not driving them. Enter the “free” parking space.

They aren’t, of course, actually free — thus someone else is paying, not the driver using it, it is external to the cost of driving; call it socialism for drivers. Thus leading to ever more demand for more driving and more parking spaces.

from the Arizona Republic 12/28/2009; Ahwatukee Park-and-Ride Lot Expanding.

In the example mentioned in the story, 353 spaces are being added to the existing 562 for a cost of $3M. That’s $8,500 per space. But that is only the cost of construction (or land but that is cheap); the ongoing costs aren’t listed but they are significant. A not exhaustive list would look something like; lighting, maintenance like sweeping and cleaning, and re-sealing asphalt, full-time(one employee ~ 50hrs/week) security during operating hours, cost of operating the small building (heat and cooled approximately 24×7, even though no one is usually there; didn’t these people ever hear of a programmable thermostat?).

see Doug Shoup’s book mentioned here; The High Cost of Free parking.

In the particular example of a transit park-and-ride lot it gets even more interesting because of the cross-subsidies involved in mass transit. One wonders if the best use of presumably limited transit funds is to build parking spaces for the relatively well-off remote suburban commuters. This lot serves only one bus line; a rapid/express (no intermediate stops) route between Ahwatukee and downtown Phoenix. The line only runs one way, and only in the morning and evening. Thus the parking spots have low turnover — one spot equals one round trip rider.

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the future of a continent

a book by Andrew Nikiforuk.

This was mainly a polemic against the tar sands (though the industry prefers the term oil sands) industry as practiced in Alberta, Canada, and how it connects to provicial politics there. The problems with the industry are legion: they use enormous amounts of natural gas to extract and upgrade the tar; loads of water is used; this load of water is then collected in highly toxic tailings ponds. Open pit/strip mining uses less natural gas than in situ extraction, but leaves obvious scars. And in any event, only 20% of the bitumen is available through mining — the other 80% requires in situ (referred to as SAGD,  Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage). Continue reading Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the future of a continent

Gas Tax Pandering

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. John McCain at least openly acknowledges that economics isn’t his strong suit. Senator Kyl, I would have thought, would know better. Pure pandering.

Here we are in the midst of a big brown-cloud and ozone non-attainment season, and our two senators are endorsing a plan to increase the amount to gasoline and diesel consumed. Vehicle emissions in Maricopa county (the Phoenix metropolitan area) are the primary contributor to smog.

As if that’s not bad enough, the shortfall — the amount that would have been collected during the “holiday” — will be made up from general revenue. Which is to say, car use will be (further) subsidized by taxes unrelated to driving, like the income tax, or will simply make the federal deficit larger. This sets up exactly the wrong incentives– you will get more driving and less useful economic activity.

From a economic policy perspective, a much better stimulus would be to have some sort of “holiday” on payroll taxes. These taxes are a direct tax on labor, and hit lower-wage earners particularly hard.

“…John McCain proposed a ‘gas tax holiday’ that would suspend federal levies between Memorial Day and Labor Day… His Arizona colleague, Jon Kyl, promptly introduced it as Senate legislation”

“The 18.4 cent tax per gallon of gas (24.4 cents for diesel) funds interstate highway repairs and other transit needs, though general revenue would offset losses from the moratorium.”

Global Warming Holiday, WSJ April 25, 2008. (emphasis added)

Ozone and CAFE

Coincidentally, two related-but-unrelated items came out today.

A new National Academy of Sciences report confirms (reconfirms?) the link between elevated ozone air pollution and increased risk of premature death was released. See, e.g. Panel Confirms That Ozone Kills, US News & World Report April 23, 2008. Ozone is an unavoidable byproduct any combustion, e.g. automobile use.

On the fuel-economy front, presumably to coincide with earth day, Bush Administration released accelerated CAFE standards. See e.g. Government to release proposed fuel economy rules, Associated Press April 22, 2008.

Holman Jenkins’ WSJ Business World column, A Volt out of the Red, gave his usual analysis of CAFE, which I believe is right, and I tend to agree with. My complain is his sin of omission — does he not know about toxic pollution? He continues to berate the Prius, as in this dig “…GM intends to beat Toyota at its own game of selling bogus green symbolism to Washington and Hollywood”.

Does toxic pollution not count? Since apparently Jenkins doesn’t “believe in” global warming, does that also mean he doesn’t believe in air pollution either?.

The Toyota Prius (note 1) puts out only about one-half the ozone-forming pollutants per mile of the average new car (average is defined as being bin 5). An absurd vehicle like the Hummer H2, bin 8, emits between two and ten TIMES as much ozone-forming pollutants (note 2). How much more are H2 drivers paying to pollute the air, say, compared to Prius driver? Nothing. Drivers pay nothing. And if you can believe it, the H2 situation now is much better than it was a few years ago, in 2004 model year the H2 emitted between five and 30 times the pollution of a Prius.

And it’s not like Toyota is “green” and Hummer (owned by GM) is dirty — Toyota produces their own dirty cars, e.g. in 2008 the Scion XD bin 8, just like the H2. Though it looks like Toyota never produces a bin 11 car.

What’s the point? I don’t own a Prius. The point isn’t for everyone to run out and buy a low-emissions vehicle — that actually wouldn’t work because the regulations work on a fleet average. A constructive start would be to price pollution appropriately. This simple market-based solution would reduce the total amounts of smog and result in better health for all. The polluter, that is to say the driver, should pay.


1) See EPA GreenVehicle Guide, About Ratings. Pdfs for vehicle emissions standards, and summary/history (the glossary is particularly useful). This explains the Tier 1, and Tier 2 “bins”. This is all terribly confusing because the bin number (1 through 11) goes up as pollution goes up — whereas the EPA’s “Air Pollution Score” (10 downto 0) goes down.

2) Retrieved from the 2008 model year EPA Green Vehicle Guide.

-) Another explanation of Tiers and Bins at

-) Excellent article at Edmunds: Untangling U.S. Vehicle Emissions Regulations