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Smog Check
Douglas S. Eisinger
RFF Press | 09/15/2010
When a new federal regulatory program conflicts with an existing state-level system, whose approach should prevail? During the 1990s, the federal government sought to implement the Clean Air Act Amendments and resolve previous problems that it had with compliance. This lead to an intense conflict between U.S. EPA regulators and the state of California. The disagreement involved a federally mandated auto emissions program with centralized testing and California’s existing program that was implemented through local garages (service stations)—a program that was popularly called “Smog Check.” The dispute over Smog Check grew into a clash that had national significance and was further complicated by a recession, the politics of a gubernatorial election, a transition between presidential administrations, and California’s possible loss of nearly $1 billion in federal funds if the state failed to comply with EPA mandates.

The debate over Smog Check ended when EPA finally granted California, and the rest of the nation, greater regulatory flexibility. Fundamental to the Smog Check controversy were questions about federal versus state authority as well as battles between colorful personalities. In his new book, Smog Check, Douglas S. Eisinger presents these struggles in fascinating, first-hand detail. Eisinger, an EPA official at the time of this conflict, probes deeply into the issues and explores broader questions including: when does it become imperative for agencies to bargain with one another, when should regulatory flexibility and performance-based regulations be favored over command and control approaches, what should be done when decisions need to be made in the face of scientific disagreement about both the scope of a problem and the effectiveness of different solutions? He concludes the book with commentary from other former EPA officials who were witnesses or participants in the Smog Check controversy.

Smog Check is engaging reading for students interested in intergovernmental relations and regulatory reform. It provides insight for policy professionals involved in environmentalprotection whenever it involves coordination between federal and state or local agencies.

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