New smog curbs could cost smaller localities
But EPA says rules will save more lives
WASHINGTON - Hundreds of communities far from congested highways and belching smokestacks could soon join America’s big cities and industrial corridors in violation of stricter limits on lung-damaging smog proposed yesterday by the Obama administration.
The costs of compliance could be in the tens of billions of dollars, but the government said the rules would save billions - and lives - in the long run.
More than 300 counties - mainly in the Northeast, Southern California, and the Gulf Coast - already violate the current, looser requirements the Bush administration adopted two years ago and will find it even harder to reduce smog-forming pollution enough to comply with the law.
The new limits being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency could more than double the number of counties in violation and reach places like California’s wine country in Napa Valley and rural Trego County, Kan., and its 3,000 residents.
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 ultimately save billions in avoided emergency room visits, premature deaths, and missed work and school days, the EPA said.
“EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face,’’ said Lisa Jackson, agency administrator. “Using the best science to strengthen these standards is long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.’’
Global warming is expected to make it worse, because smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries, and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.
Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, praised the new standards, asserting that the Bush administration ignored science with the more lenient limits.
“The Bush administration set flawed standards that failed to protect public health,’’ Markey, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee with oversight of EPA, said in a statement. “We can all breathe a little easier knowing that a proscience Obama administration and EPA is back on the beat.’’
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 the 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 scientists said was needed to protect public health.
Some of those same industries reiterated their opposition yesterday 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,’’ he added.
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.
They’ve already cut pollution from the easier sources, by increasing monitoring and enforcement and requiring car emissions tests.
EPA estimates that meeting the new requirements will cost industry and motorists from $19 billion up to $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.
Environmentalists endorsed the new plan. “If EPA follows through, it will mean significantly cleaner air and better health protection,’’ said Frank O’Donnell, the president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Material from the Washington Post was also used in this report.