Good News From The Overlords: Washington State To End Auto Emissions Tests In 2020!

P. Gardner Goldsmith | February 2, 2019
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Thomas Jefferson famously said that the “natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” So it’s nice to see a good story, where, at least superficially, government is pulling back…


According to, on January 31, the Washington State Department of Ecology announced that it would no longer require auto emissions tests in most counties on most model-year cars. The tests have been required by the state since 1982.

Said a news release from the state DoE:

Despite the end of mandatory emission testing, we believe air quality will continue to improve in the years ahead as newer, cleaner vehicles replace older, less-efficient models.

Which comes as no surprise for those of us who understand economics. In economic history, the primary drivers of consumer interest, and, as a result, supplier activity, have been to acquire the best products or services for the lowest prices. Productivity is the key. Waste is, as the cliché goes, wasteful.

And in a truly private market -- one which would include real recognition of private property rights -- those who pollute air would be liable if others can prove they or their property were harmed by it.

The way things work today, government stifles the operation of this private property system – and this isn’t some abstract notion…

Beyond the economic drivers that inspire auto manufacturers to make more and more efficient engines, if Washington State and the US had real recognition of private property rights, rather than a cypher for them (in which a non-person called The State and its “regulatory agencies” tell everyone how their car emissions will function), liability and potential tort suits for damages would inspire private insurance cost-benefit analyses for auto manufacturers. These, in turn, would see spontaneously created, market-driven, liability-warding incentives for emissions that might exceed government standards.

The entire concept of a government claiming to have the power to preemptively tell someone how to sell a product or service is unethical and faulty. Clearly, the state is not a person, hence has no standing to make a claim of damage, and, in fact, these regulations are preemptive, they come prior to the release of new vehicles, so no damage has occurred. Tort laws – i.e. court proceedings for damages to property and person – stem from British Common Law, wherein a real person could make a claim of damages, and, if he or she could show said damage, could bring another to court for restitution.

Since the state is not a person, it has no standing to claim damages, and it certainly has no ethical position to preemptively tell people what they can or cannot do when offering something for voluntary purchase by a consumer.

These seemingly abstract points are important.

In fact, they are key to looking at this issue from a larger, more long-term perspective, because, even though the seemingly beneficent action of Washington State might be applauded by some, or seen as a sign of cleaner air, a mindset of Stockholm Syndrome pollutes the entire celebratory atmosphere.

Yes, in 2020 most Washington State car owners will save $15.00 that would have been wasted on the emissions tests, and that adds up to a lot of money. But the state and federal government still claim the power over emissions themselves. The power imbalance is still in place. Politicians aren’t tossing away their claim to, at some future date, tell people what the emissions will be.

‘The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required that Washington’s air quality not just meet federal standards, but that we can demonstrate that we’ve reached a point where our air quality won’t worsen without the emission check program in place,’ said the state DOE.

This is not a miniscule matter. Often, reporters and even those consuming the reports fall into the trap that 19th Century economist Frederic Bastiat described as “what is seen and not seen”. They will see the superficial story about the end of emissions tests in practice, and will overlook what is not seen: the extant claim by politicians to replace real tort law with state preemption and unethical threats on auto manufacturers and owners to live as the politicians see fit.

The Washington State move to stop emissions tests does not remove the federal EPAs expensive and fascistic burdens on auto manufacturers, nor does it prevent future state politicians from imposing more regulations and mandates on automakers and owners, so it is not something to fully celebrate.

In fact, there are other ways to address potential environmental harm. But as long as people operate with a normalcy bias that it’s always been the place of the state to tell individuals how to sell or use a product, or the mistaken belief that the market itself doesn’t have incentives to reduce the potential for environmental troubles, the door to environmental regulations will always be there, within reach of the politicians.

We’d be wise to not only lock it, but replace it with a sturdy, impenetrable wall.