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THE FEDERAL government finally has gotten around to working over people in my neighborhood.

How much grief will we have to endure over the auto emissions program the feds are cramming down our throats?New York state's commissioner of environmental conservation says he'll try to do this as cheaply and conveniently as possible, but the federal Clean Air Act mandates that car owners in every metro area with more than 100,000 people have to pay to have the emissions from our cars checked, and that's that.

Why do we have to go through this?

Well, it's not because our air is bad. In Albany, we have a 130-degree temperature swing every 12 months, but air quality is super. My region has met federal air quality standards for years.

As a practical matter, air quality nationwide is improving dramatically.

In the past 20 years, airborne levels of lead have dropped 96 percent, for example. The number of counties across the country that fail to meet federal air quality standards has dropped like a rock.

Even in places where the air is still bad, it's better than it used to be.

Seven years ago, smog warnings were issued in major East Coast cities four out of 10 days when the temperature went over 90. Now that's down to one in 10.

Sure, federal action to protect air quality has had a lot to do with those numbers. But we've never had numbers like that in the metro area I live in.

Whatever sense it might make to test cars in areas where you have a lot of people jammed tightly together in heavy traffic, there's no logic whatever in costing people time and money to comply with an auto emissions program in a place where those emissions aren't a problem.

Logic isn't what this is about, though. It's about a political agenda on the part of some environmental extemists who've been lying to us for decades now about the danger posed to Mother Earth by everybody who drives a car or heats a home or generates garbage.

Among the lies: Forests are in danger of eradication. Well, not quite. Forested acreage has been on the increase in this country for 70 years, since really predatory logging practices were curtailed.

Overpopulation is going to ruin the world. Paul Ehrlich, the guru of the population control movement for decades now, predicted 20 years ago that by 1990 65 million Americans would starve to death. Didn't happen, did it? Ehrlich published a new book five years ago warning of overpopulation - after 15 straight years of a flat birth rate in this country.

Look, nobody wants dirty air - or dirty water, either. But despite distortions you might hear from environmental extemists, both are getting cleaner by the day, and the air here was never dirty to begin with.

Auto emissions testing won't change that. Every indication is that it'll merely end up as a gigantic pain to everybody in my neighborhood who drives.