Thursday, March 13, 2008

EPA tightens amount of smog allowed in counties nationwide

Portland Press Herald

The standard falls short of what most experts say is needed to protect those most vulnerable, however.

March 13, 2008

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The air in hundreds of U.S. counties is simply too dirty to breathe, the government said Wednesday, ordering a multibillion-dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in cities and towns nationwide.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was tightening the amount of ozone, commonly known as smog, that will be allowed in the air. But the lower standard still falls short of what most health experts say is needed to significantly reduce heart and asthma attacks from breathing smog-clogged air.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called the new smog requirements "the most stringent standards ever," and he said they will require 345 counties – out of more than 700 that are monitored – to make air quality improvements because they now have dirtier air than is healthy.

Johnson said that state and local officials have considerable time to meet the new requirements – as much as 20 years for some that have the most serious pollution problems. EPA estimates that by 2020 the number of counties failing to meet the new health standard will drop to about 28.

About 85 counties fall short of the old standard enacted a decade ago.

Johnson's decision is likely to be met with sharp criticism from health experts and some members of Congress because it goes counter to the recommendations of two of his agency's scientific advisory panels – one on air quality and the other on protection of children.

The new EPA standard will lower the allowable concentration of ozone in the air to no more than 75 parts per billion, compared with the old standard of 80.

The science boards had told the agency that limits of 60 to 70 parts per billion are needed to protect the nation's most vulnerable citizens, especially children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses.

Johnson said he did not take into account the cost of meeting the new requirements. States and counties would have to require emission reductions from factories, power plants and cars to meet the tougher rules.

The EPA has estimated that compliance with a 75 parts per billion smog standard would cost as much as $8.8 billion a year by 2020. That estimate, however, does not take into account balancing reductions in health care costs that could be even greater.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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