Don't Allow Dirty Air to Be the Victor Strengthening Air Quality Standards Will Spur Long Overdue Beneficial Change, despite What Polluters Claim

Article excerpt

Widely reported statements from industry lobbyists suggest that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to improve air-quality standards spells economic doom.

In fact, strengthening air-quality standards to prevent respiratory illness, tens of thousands of premature deaths, and billions of dollars in medical expenses may help bring about long overdue common-sense changes that will prove economically beneficial in the long run.

(The EPA recently extended its deadline to March 12 for public comments on its proposal. People can call 1-888-TELLEPA, toll-free, to make their views known.) Already some progress We can provide energy for homes, business, and transportation with far less pollution than we do now. Some cities have already begun switching their bus fleets to natural gas, and many power plants now use alternative fuels or support energy-efficiency improvements. Changes such as these will help us meet the new standards and develop a more economically resilient energy strategy over the long term. Nevertheless, 26 years after the Clean Air Act became law, we still allow most trucks and buses to belch diesel fumes into the air and tolerate uncontrolled pollution from huge Midwestern coal-burning power plants. Polluters have used the inadequate current standards to avoid needed changes. For example, electric utility lobbyists convinced officials in Pennsylvania not to support strict nitrogen oxide emissions reduction requirements by arguing that local air may meet current standards. Since the polluters have persuaded many state legislatures to pass laws forbidding officials from going beyond federal minimum standards, efforts to protect people from harmful pollution levels have been stalled. People are being told, in effect, that the government already protects their health when it does not. This charade harms efforts to clean up unhealthful East Coast air. New York, for example, receives significant amounts of pollution from large power plants in western Pennsylvania and the Midwest. New York officials fear that meeting their Clean Air Act obligations may prove futile because of smog from out of state. Because it thinks it's futile, New York fails to meet its cleanup obligations. And this undermines efforts in Massachusetts and Connecticut, recipients of New York's pollution. …

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