Confronted by the certain failure of California's four smoggiest areas to meet federal clear-air standards by the 1987 deadline, but reluctant to impose congressionally required sanctions, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials began a public search on Wednesday for a way out of the dilemma.
They immediately ran into opposition from both business and environmentalists.
At issue is the EPA's controversial proposal to forgo the imposition of federal sanctions, which could include such measures as a cutoff of federal highways funds, if the four smog-bound regions place added controls on emissions from motor vehicles and industry.
The four regions include the South Coast Air Basin (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties), the Sacramento Air Quality Maintenance Area and Ventura and Fresno counties. None figures to meet the December, 1987, deadline for achieving the federal Clean Air Act standard for ozone of .12 parts of ozone per million parts of air over a one-hour period.
In addition, the South Coast basin and Ventura are not expected to meet the same deadline on the carbon monoxide standard of 9.3 parts per million parts of air over an eight-hour average.
The South Coast basin is not expected to meet the federal ozone standard before the year 2020, if ever, and will not meet the carbon monoxide standard before the year 2000.
95% of Smog
Ozone, which makes up 95% of what is commonly known as smog, has been shown to cause adverse effects on even healthy exercising humans as well as damage to forests and certain crops.
The EPA has put forth as an alternative to sanctions a proposal known as the reasonable extra-efforts program, and the agency also views it as a possible answer in other cities around the nation that are not expected to meet clean-air standards by the federal deadline.
An estimated 60 million Americans live in cities that will fail to meet the deadline for complying with federal Clean Air Act standards for ozone and carbon monoxide, according to the EPA.
The EPA scheduled the public hearing, it said, because it was seeking advice on how to implement the regulatory scheme in the face of uncertain authority under the Clean Air Act.
"We're in uncharted territory as far as the Clean Air Act and guidance from Congress goes. I don't think Congress anticipated this particular situation," David P. Howekamp, director of the EPA's regional air management division, said before the hearing.
No sooner had the hearing opened than the extra-efforts program came under fire from representatives of major industries and some environmentalists.
Representatives of major oil companies, domestic auto makers and other businesses said the EPA has no authority to impose the regulations and, at the very least, should not carry out the tougher air-pollution controls without following a formal administrative hearing and rule-making process that the EPA said could mean a delay of 12 to 15 months.
Oil industry representatives called for new studies to assess the benefits of past efforts to curtail pollutants before imposing new controls. They also said the costs of new controls should be weighed against health benefits.
At one point, Stanley Zwicker, manager of environmental programs for Unocal and speaking for the American Petroleum Institute, told the hearing, "I personally don't think we'll see the .12 parts per million, not in out lifetime. . . . I think many of us in the industry would like to see that standard loosened."
Environmentalists, including representatives of the Coalition for Clean Air and the American Lung Assn. of California, and representatives of the League of Women Voters said they recognize that something more needs to be done, and offered conditional support for the proposal.
At the same time, however, environmentalists said that they were concerned that the extra-efforts program would be too weak and become a poor substitute for vigorous enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
Mark Abramowitz, project director of the Coalition for Clear Air, argued that the proposal "may result in little more than a paper exercise" because of it has been weakened in "back-room meetings."
Under the proposal, the four California regions would be required to submit to the EPA by next February revisions in previously approved air-pollution control plans. The revision would contain a schedule for enforcing new emission controls, which would have to be on the books within two to three years. Every three years, the plan revisions would have to be updated.
Reflecting the concerns of many industry representatives, Charles B. Kay of the Western Oil and Gas Assn. complained that California is being singled out for special enforcement.
"There is no reason why California should have a different program. That particularly puts the state at an economic disadvantage," Kay said.