New Air Standards Could Cost Billions: EPA's Proposal Draws Heavy Fire

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The Environmental Protection Agency, to the consternation of many business groups and local governments, yesterday proposed stringent new air-quality standards that would cost more than $6.5 billion a year to meet.

The new rules would tighten pollution limits that many cities already fail to meet and regulate more of the tiny particles from smokestacks.

"I think this is EPA's turkey for Thanksgiving," said Dick Klimisch, vice president of engineering for the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, which has actively fought the proposed air-quality standards.

He and other opponents said that the EPA has failed to consider the high cost of the proposals and that the agency lacked data to support some assumptions.

"The U.S. EPA is putting a huge mandate on the state, on local governments and on consumers without having fully evaluated the cost, the relative health benefits and the technical feasibility of meeting the standards," said Donald Schregardus, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

But EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the proposal would provide new protection to nearly 133 million Americans, including 40 million children.

The new standards would require communities to cut ozone levels by one-third. The ozone readings would be taken over an average of eight hours, rather than during a single one-hour period, making it slightly easier to meet the new standard, industry sources said.

The EPA also wants to regulate tiny particles of dust from incinerators and power plants as small as 2.5 microns - a human hair is about 28 microns wide. Current standards apply to particles 10 microns or larger.

The EPA will accept comments on its proposal for 60 days and issue final rules in June. The new standards will apply to coal-fired utilities.

The Clean Air Act now regulates only 40 percent of coal-fired furnaces, said A. Blakeman Early, an American Lung Association environmental consultant. "There was a tremendous amount of research showing that the current standards were not protecting health."

Studies have linked the particles to bronchitis and chronic coughs in children and acute respiratory illness among adults, Mr. Early said.

Health experts say that even communities that are meeting the current requirements wind up with hospital admissions for respiratory ailments when ozone levels are near the standards' high end. …