Enforcing standards would save thousands of lives
EPA lowers smog limits -- but not enough
We trim and append this 2008 article from the AP of Mar 12.
By the Associated PressThe air in hundreds of U.S. counties is too dirty to breathe. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered a multibillion-dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in cities and towns nationwide. The federal action, which lowers ozone limits for the atmosphere, means that 345 counties will now be in violation of the health requirement, about four times as many as under the old rules.
Scientists said the change still isn't enough to significantly reduce heart and asthma attacks from breathing smog-clogged air, and they pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to issue even more stringent requirements.
Electric utilities, oil companies, and other businesses had lobbied hard for leaving the smog rule alone, saying the cost of lower limits could hurt the economy -- i.e., their profits -- and noting that many communities still haven't met requirements set a decade ago.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, already a target of intense criticism over emissions linked to global warming and regulation of mercury from power plants, took the middle ground. The EPA gives states years to meet the needed reductions, and areas with the worst pollution are likely to have as long as a decade to comply.
Ozone is a product of nitrogen oxides and other organic chemical compounds from motor vehicles, power plants, manufacturing and industrial plants. As it comes into contact with the sun's rays it is seen as the smog that hangs in much of the nation's air, aggravating respiratory problems for tens of millions of people.
Health experts say smog under the current ozone regulation -- even in areas where the limit is being met -- causes hundreds of premature deaths among the elderly and health problems for thousands of young children and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
An independent EPA advisory group of scientists last year said an ozone standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion is needed to provide an adequate margin of protection for the millions of people susceptible to respiratory problems. A similar conclusion was reached by a second advisory board on children's health. In December, 111 health scientists, in a letter to Johnson, urged the EPA to adopt the science panels' findings.
Clean air advocates called the latest EPA reduction a move in the right direction -- but also a political compromise that does not go far enough.
Some of the most powerful groups in Washington have waged an intense lobbying campaign at the White House, urging the Bush administration to let them keep polluting. The EPA enacted the old 80 parts per billion standard in 1997, but court challenges by industry groups delayed its implementation for years.
The EPA has said cutting smog from 80 to 75 parts per billion would prevent between 900 and 1,100 premature deaths a year and mean 1,400 fewer nonfatal heart attacks and 5,600 fewer hospital or emergency room visits. A separate study suggests that tightening the standard to 70 parts per billion could avoid as many s 3,800 premature deaths nationwide.
The EPA by law is not supposed to consider economic cost in establishing the federal health standard for air quality. The agency has estimated that new pollution control efforts to comply with a 75 parts per billion standard would cost as much as $8.8 billion a year, although it acknowledged that does not take into account reductions in health care costs that could be even greater.
JJS: How do we cut car exhaust, the biggest smogger? Cleaner fuels (like a fuel cell), cleaner motors (like electrics), and -- for your biggest gain -- more bussing, biking, and walking. People switch from driving to riding when distances are shorter and routes lovelier, which more efficient use of urban land delivers. To get landowners to put sites to best use, making cities compact, charge them the annual rental value of their location. It has worked wherever tried. And city air will be invisible once again.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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