During an interview on radio WITF Smart Talk, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro quoted the environmental amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that guarantees the right to clean air and water to all citizens.

His quote of the environmental amendment was reference to the 2-year grand jury investigation that found systematic failures of Pennsylvania regulators, including the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), regarding the protection of the environment and citizens’ health from the fracking and production of natural gas. 

While the interview focused on the grand jury investigation, the interview raised another question: What about other environmental issues that are neglected in the state?

One widespread issue is burning garbage in open pits and metal barrels at residential properties. Really? It is 2020 and Pennsylvania still allows homeowners to burn garbage.

Another neglected, unreported, and unenforced environmental issue is noise, which is a form of air pollution.

Routine lives are regularly interrupted by obnoxiously loud and illegal ‘aftermarket’ or ‘enhanced’ mufflers and exhaust systems on cars, trucks and motorcycles. There are businesses that sell products and internet videos with advice for the sole purpose of making vehicles louder.

You hear them anywhere, anytime, maybe while reading this, or while in your home, house of worship on a summer morning, at a remote state park, on your back porch or yard, during an afternoon nap, or in your favorite sidewalk café.

Excessive vehicle exhaust noise does not discriminate. It affects everyone. It is similar to second-hand tobacco smoke.

The U.S. Clean Air Act established noise is a form of air pollution that affects our quality of life, health and welfare.

In the past, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coordinated all federal noise control activities through its Office of Noise Abatement and Control. EPA phased out the funding in 1982 and transferred primary responsibility of regulating noise to state and local governments.

While there are efforts and regulations that address stationary sources of noise such as airport expansion, there are more non-stationary sources of noise that are not being addressed that affect more citizens statewide.

“Every motor vehicle must be equipped with a muffler or other effective noise-suppressing system in good working order. No muffler or exhaust system can be equipped with a cutout, bypass, or similar device.”

The Motor Vehicle Code clearly states, “The exhaust system of a vehicle may not be modified in a manner which will amplify or increase noise emitted by the motor of a vehicle.”

If this is the law, then why are there so many more loud vehicles driving around?

Ask an elected official or police officer and the excuses vary as low priority, the vehicle needs to be moving, the vehicle needs to be stopped, they don’t have the equipment, understand the regulations, or the classic. There’s nothing we can do.

It is great that our AG is familiar with the environmental rights amendment.

Remind all elected officials that they swore an oath to see that residents have a right to clean water and air that includes the absence of noise.

According to Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet “noise pollution caused by loud vehicles and motorcycles is a serious environmental and community problem. Loud unnecessary noise is a serious public health and safety problem. It is related to hearing loss, ringing of the ears, sleep deprivation, and heart disease. Loud unnecessary vehicular exhaust noise also distracts other motorists and pedestrians increasing risks to others.”

When motor vehicle exhaust systems are modified to make it louder, catalytic converters may be removed or altered thereby increasing other vehicle emissions such as nitrous and sulfur oxides, particulates and volatile organic compounds. Louder equals more emissions.

Some say that if you can hear loud exhaust it is likely in violation.

There is also an economic cost to excessive unnecessary vehicle noise as businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, wineries, micro-breweries transition to outdoor seating along sidewalks, patios and decks due to the virus restrictions. Noise interrupts workers that affect economic productivity.

Quieter venues, communities and downtowns without loud vehicle exhausts will be more enjoyable and pleasant for patrons and staff and therefore more profitable for owners and employees with more tax revenue for municipalities.

There is no environmental group, law agency, or citizens advisory group doing enforcement, education or advocacy on reducing noise.

If the attorney general had to investigate the environmental impacts of the natural gas industry in the Marcellus shale region, and if all people have a right to clean air, and if noise is a form of air pollution, then the attorney general has more work to do.

Mike Molesevich is an environmental consultant. He is a member of The Daily Item’s Community Advisory Board.

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