New smog rule could be a surprise to some counties

Jan 08, 2010 By NOAKI SCHWARTZ , Associated Press Writer
In this April 28, 2009 file photo, smog covers downtown Los Angeles. The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed stricter health standards for smog, replacing a Bush-era limit that ran counter to scientific recommendations. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

(AP) -- Parts of the country that haven't worried about air pollution may soon be in the fight California has faced for decades: cleaning up smog.

Stricter rules proposed Thursday by the Obama administration could more than double the number of counties across the country that are in violation of clean air standards. That would likely have a big impact on other parts of the nation since California already sets stringent standards for cars, ships and trucks.

"This kind of levels the playing field," said Leo Kay, spokesman for the California Air Resources Control Board. "In California we've set pretty tough air pollution standards for a long time now and this brings the rest of the country to the same level."

More than 300 counties - mainly in southern California, the Northeast and Gulf Coast - already violate the current, looser requirements adopted two years ago by the Bush administration.

For the first time, counties in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa might be forced to find ways to clamp down on smog-forming emissions from industry and automobiles, or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars.

The tighter standards will be costly but will ultimately save billions in avoided emergency room visits, premature deaths, and missed work and school days, the EPA said.

The proposal presents a range for the allowable concentration of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, from 60 parts per billion to 70 parts, as recommended by scientists during the Bush administration. That's equivalent to a single tennis ball in an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of tennis balls.

EPA plans to select a specific figure within that range by August. Counties and states will then have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, depending on how severely they are out of compliance. They will have to submit plans for meeting the new limits by end of 2013 or early 2014.

Former President George W. Bush personally intervened in the issue after hearing complaints from electric utilities and other affected industries. His EPA set a standard of 75 parts per billion, stricter than one adopted in 1997 but not as strict as what scientist said was needed to protect public health.

Parts of the country that have already spent decades and millions of dollars fighting smog and are still struggling to meet existing thresholds questioned what more they could do.

"This EPA decision provides the illusion of greater protectiveness, but with no regard for cost, in terms of dollars or in terms of the freedoms that Americans are accustomed to," said Bryan W. Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Texas, with its heavy industry, is home to Houston, one of the smoggiest cities in the nation.

Even in California, easily the country's smoggiest state, regions that have not had to worry about reducing air pollution could face penalties under tough new clean-air standards.

Should the Environmental Protection Agency adopt the strictest measures, the new rules would go beyond California's own tough smog standards causing nearly three-quarters of the state's 58 counties to be in violation.

This would include less-populated areas known for their natural beauty or crisp coastal air such as Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

The new rules would also push parts of the state already defined by smog - including Southern California, the smoggiest region of the U.S. - to find additional ozone emission reductions.

"Here in Los Angeles it's not going to be a radical change, but we're going to have to look at adopting additional measures," said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the state's South Coast Air Quality Management District, which regulates Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties. "We're going to have to go back to the well."

EPA estimates meeting the new requirements will cost industry and motorists from $19 billion to as much as $90 billion a year by 2020. The Bush administration had put the cost of meeting its threshold at $7.6 billion to $8.5 billion a year.

Some industries reiterated their opposition to a stronger smog standard.

"We probably won't know for a couple of years just what utilities and other emissions sources will be required to do in response to a tighter ozone standard," said John Kinsman, a senior director at the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group. "Utilities already have made substantial reductions in ozone-related emissions."

Smog is a respiratory irritant that has been linked to asthma attacks and other illnesses. Global warming is expected to make it worse, since is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

Environmentalists endorsed the new plan.

"The fact is every time a standard is set, it appears difficult," said Martin Schlageter, interim executive director for the Coalition for Clean Air. "Until you're on that path it just seems scary ... but then we get on the path and start doing it and pretty soon we're nearing our goal."

Explore further: When the isthmus is an island: Madison's hottest, and coldest, spots

More information: Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov

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Shootist
2.4 / 5 (5) Jan 08, 2010
Does anyone here remember when you could not see the San Gabriels from downtown LA?

You can now.

Does anyone here remember when the Potomac caught fire?

It isn't on fire anymore.

Does anyone here remember waking up to a covering of coal dust on the fresh snow?

There isn't any coal dust covering the fresh snow any more.

Air quality is an order of magnitude better now than it was 40 year ago. All the rest is hype to upset the sheep, and government garnering more control of its subjects.

Gad, I hope these socialist are unelected soon.
LKD
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2010
"Counties and states will then have up to 20 years to meet the new limits"

The government once again puts jingoism's and speeches above anything real. Yeay us! One can only imagine the list of exemptions that is withheld from this article...

Why don't we mandate a 0 emission standard for 2150 while we are at it and then we can boast we passed legislation that will stop all pollution in the whole world? If you are going to be a joke, think big!
jonnyboy
2 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2010
This is what you get when you put liberals in charge of the government, unrealistic regulations with real world consequences. There are already 300 counties that can't meet the current standard so let's lower the standard even further.
Planetbob99
1 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2010
Does anyone here remember when ...


Does anyone here remember when the asthma rate of children raised in the city was three times that of suburban?

Oh. Yeah. It still is.

Socialist. Too funny. Yeah, I guess if fighting to keep your pollution out of my air makes me a socialist, I'm game. Being willing to pay for my impact... I guess that is nearly communist!

"Liberals" gave you your highway system. Your social security. Medicare. "Socialists" cleaned up your burning rivers, forced coal plants to put filters on their smoke stacks, stopped companies from dumping toxins into air and water. And, for a few brief years, the moon.

The 'non-socialists' which you seem so ready to re-embrace gave us satellite based laser missile defenses which never worked, a handful of wars, a free-fall economy, higher taxes, and a massive and increasing national debt.

Give me a socialist any day.
flaredone
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2010
Monetary economy cannot fight for clean environment, until its benefits cannot be expressed in money. In fact, it cannot fight with own crisis, because their cost cannot be expressed in money, too.