catalytic converters
(photo: fru-fru /

By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

My sister recently had her catalytic converter stolen, adding her to the ranks of thousands that have become victims of this crime in Kern County. The absurd story of the catalytic converter and California policy makes one of today’s most prevalent crimes even more frustrating. Government has gotten so big that at all levels there are bureaucrats mired in minutia and almost all of them can’t step back and look at the macro view of their policy, and with California leading the league in bloated government, there are plenty of examples of policy inconsistencies. Although California has plenty of missteps, many more egregious than this, the catalytic converter gives a snapshot of California’s governing incompetence.

In the mid-1970s California required all new vehicles to be equipped with a catalytic converter. As a pioneer in burdening its citizens with regulation, California was the first to institute this tail pipe scrubber. Due to the number of vehicles sold in California, auto manufacturers eventually began equipping all vehicles for the U.S. market with catalytic converters, allowing the rest of the nation to share in the cost and burden instituted by California policy. By 1984, California began requiring periodic smog checks on vehicles to make sure they were equipped with a catalytic converter and conformed to state standards for vehicle owners to use their vehicles on public roads. Although government took credit for cleaning up vehicle emissions through mandates, these edicts did little to improve air quality. As is usually the case with everything, economics created the biggest cleanup of vehicle emissions. Rising fuel prices spurred the private sector to innovate creating electronic fuel injection and more advanced tuning, and the economic goal of burning less fuel had the largest effect in emission reductions, but government mandates don’t shrink.

Fast forward to modern day where the world has embraced California’s love for regulation and almost every vehicle on the entire planet is equipped with catalytic converters. The crucial components of catalytic converters require platinum, palladium, and rhodium, some of the most scarce and precious metals on earth. In a sane world, a government body that requires a scarce mined material to permit your vehicle to travel the public roads would simultaneously loosen mining restrictions to increase the amount of said required mined material. Not in California. In fact, after requiring vehicles to include this mined material, California increased state mining restrictions and pushed for more stringent mining restrictions nationwide. These precious metals are on American soil, but most of our platinum, palladium, and rhodium come from South Africa and Russia. Already rare metals, coupled with anti-mining environmental policy, have created a scarcity that has driven these metals to $20,000 an ounce or more.

California’s “progressive” justice system has created a situation where hardened criminals and drug dependent folks are slapped on the wrist or released out of prison early. A huge increase in the number of criminals walking among us, that previously in a civil society would have been behind bars, coupled with a vocal anti-police sentiment from some, and police officers fighting futility when they catch bad guys only to see them released by a negligent justice system, creates a perfect environment for thieves. Opening the door to thieves, while at the same time requiring all vehicles to be equipped with an easily stolen device containing precious metals worth over $20,000 an ounce is a recipe for transgression. A recipe cooked up by incompetent bureaucrats and politicians.

To recap: I am mandated to have a catalytic converter to use the roads that I help pay for. This mandate has spread worldwide, creating demand for an already rare material. The state that mandated the use places stringent mining restrictions on extraction of said materials and supports federal restrictions of mining of said materials driving black market value. The state that created the mandate and contributed to the exorbitant black-market value also lets criminals out of prison and doesn’t punish them for theft. Here are some solutions that will sound simple because you readers have some logic that apparently eludes state policy makers: 1. Lock up criminals (groundbreaking thought). 2. Look to remove restrictions on mining of required rare metals. 3. If you are too dense to do 1 or 2, eliminate the catalytic converter mandate. Don’t punish all of us because you can’t see the big picture.

This is a small issue with relatively simple solutions, but it is characteristic of all of California’s big issues. The lack of a macro view has created so many solvable problems in this state. The state doesn’t deliver promised and paid for water and so farmers pump more, a government created problem that we all pay for through SGMA. The state lets criminals out of jail, doesn’t regulate illicit drugs, while at the same time making hiring very expensive, and enacting some of the strictest, most expensive building regulations in the nation, and doesn’t understand why we have a homeless problem. Though a good snapshot of California’s ineptness, there are bigger problems than catalytic converters. Unless California voters and law makers step back and take a macro look at the problems, the productive folks will keep leaving this state and there will be fewer and fewer tailpipes to tax.

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