Smog May Force Southwest to Apply Brakes to Growth DESERT AIR YOU CAN SMELL Series: Phoenix, with about 2.5 Million Residents, Is Looking for Ways to Cut Air Pollution. Volunteer Methods like Car Pooling Have Met Meager Response Thus Far, So Tougher Restrictions May Be on the Way., MELANIE STETSON FREEMAN - STAFF/FILE
William H. Carlile, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Talk about urban sprawl. The city of Phoenix grows an acre an hour, as newcomers arrive in search of high-tech jobs, a casual lifestyle, and pristine desert air.
But for every home that sprouts amid the cactus and sagebrush, this city also gains another car pumping carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the air. The result: a brown cloud that smells faintly like the Bronx.
Across the Southwest, the big-city byproducts of rapid growth are forcing officials from Albuquerque to Las Vegas to take action. Some leaders worry their cities could lose federal funding for highways if they continue to fail air-quality tests. In some cases, the same mayors who had promoted their towns as "friendly to business" are now contemplating policies that would restrict further growth.
Phoenix is the latest example. This spring, the US Environmental Protection Agency downgraded Phoenix's carbon-monoxide and particulate rating from "moderate" to "serious." City officials are expecting Phoenix to be downgraded for ozone pollution as well in the summer months.
To address the problem, Arizona Gov. Fife Symington (R) last month declared an air pollution emergency for Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The governor's order applies to state workers only, requiring them to cut down on drive-alone trips and avoid morning and afternoon rush hours. State leaders say the declaration is intended to show good faith and avoid penalties under the federal Clean Air Act.
A similar county program requires Maricopa businesses with 50 employees or more to begin a trip-reduction program for employees. But while the program, which started in 1988, aimed to reduce the number of single-occupant cars by 40 percent, the reduction thus far has been closer to 25 percent.
If the volunteer approach continues to lag, officials may have to consider stronger action. Roger Ferland, chairman of a state task force to reduce ozone levels, says "everything is on the table" for discussion, including strict measures that may not sit well with businesses.
Nearby Scottsdale, Ariz., for instance, is considering an ordinance to ban wood-burning fireplaces in new homes. Builders plan to fight the measure.
In Las Vegas, the country's fastest growing city, smog has become a significant problem and the pollution alerts are coming earlier and earlier each year.
"Only three weeks into 1996, the EPA told the city it had reached non-compliance" for air quality standards, says Robert Parker, an urban expert at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. "They rank Las Vegas with New York City in fifth place in terms of air pollution. …