January 8, 2010

EPA Looks At Tougher Smog Controls

Some parts of the country that haven't had to deal with air pollution and smog, like California has over the past, may soon have to worry about it as well. Tougher standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday will determine how much smog will be tolerated in the air.

The new standards would save money and protect the health of our citizens, especially children.

In a statement made by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, she said the "EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face. Smog in the air we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children and individuals suffering from asthma and lung disease."

Many people believe the current standards set by the old administration are not protective enough for human health, according to the EPA. The new proposal will set the standard to protect human health more than ever before. It will have the strictest levels ever in the United States.

The former George W. Bush administration set the primary standard in 2008 to allow smog to be at levels of 75 parts per billion (ppb) for eight hours. The Obama administration wants that number lowered to between 60 and 70 ppb for eight hours. A lawsuit was filed against the EPA in 2008 by the American Lung Association and the Natural Resources Council claiming that the level was set too high.

Thursday's proposal was met with eagerness by both the ALA and the NRC.

The EPA said its new standards will be costly but will save billions on health care, premature deaths, and missed work and school days.

If adopted, the EPA will refine its figures for allowable concentration of ground-level ozone. The current proposal allows for a figure between 60 and 70 ppb, but the agency will come up with a suitable number within that range by August. Once the proposal becomes standard, counties and states will have up to 20 years to meet the new limits. Timeframes will be set according to how severely out of compliance states are. They will have to submit plans on how they will tackle and control their smog problems by no later than 2014.

A 60-day period for public comment has been opened and public hearings will be held next month on the issue.

The EPA also proposed on Thursday setting standards to help protect plants and trees from damage from constant ozone exposure, which can be very harmful to growth and may cause disease in the plant.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group with more than 1 million members, applauded the EPA for the stance it is taking on the smog issue. They called the new proposal "a breath of fresh air." Sierra Club director Carl Pope said this new proposal "will help ensure that all major sources of pollution get cleaned up."

The levels are planned to be set by the end of this year or early next year. More than 300 counties on the Gulf Coast already violate the current standards set by the Bush administration two years ago.

Along with California, many states will now be forced to clean up their act when the new levels are set. Idaho, Oregon, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and others will most likely be targets with the newly proposed plan. States that cannot meet the requirements will most likely face government sanctions that include loss of federal grant money.

Parts of the country that have already spent millions fighting smog are struggling to meet existing guidelines. Many states are questioning what more they can do.

If and when the EPA adopts its new stricter measures, it will put most of California's 58 counties in violation. Most of those regions have not had to worry about reducing air pollution in the past. Areas like Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, known for natural beauty and crisp coastal air, would also be in violation.

Southern California, easily the smoggiest region of the state - and the country, will have to find new ways to cut out even more smog. This would be a costly endeavor in a state that is already hurting from the recession.

The EPA estimates that the new guidelines will cost industry and motorists as much as 90 billion dollars a year by the year 2020. The current requirements cost nearly 8.5 billion dollars per year. Many industries are voicing their opposition to the stronger smog standard.

The EPA's aim is to have a concentration of ozone in the atmosphere that does not exceed the set level. A grace period will allow areas to meet the new requirements. Areas like Los Angeles, where smog is very noticeable, will get more time to reach the goal as opposed to places like New York or Boston.


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