WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency today outlined plans to penalize the nation's most polluted cities in a few years, and the head of the agency warned again that Los Angeles and several other cities will have to restrict auto use to meet the national clean air standards.
EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas said "a handful, maybe 10," of the cities would have to adopt "measures like ride sharing and car pools and mass transit." In addition to Los Angeles, he mentioned Denver and New York as examples.
Earlier in the day, a group of senators protested that Thomas' draft policy for dealing with cities after the Dec. 31 deadline for meeting clean air goals is illegal.
But Thomas insisted that Congress made it clear in 1982 that it did not want any city penalized for simple failure to meet the deadline.
'Law Should Be Changed'
Thomas said, "I'm not suggesting this in lieu of changes in the Clean Air Act. . . . The law should be changed" along the lines of several existing bills that would set different deadlines for different areas.
At a news conference, the senators said the EPA's plan to begin imposing penalties on cities and counties with dirty air in about three years is an illegal extension of deadlines that takes the heat off Congress to change the law.
That delay simply invites lawsuits on the sound basis that Congress did not authorize it, said Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.).
Chafee and Sens. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the EPA plan is "not only undesirable but illegal." The four are members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The committee has approved a revision of the Clean Air Act that would grant varying extensions of the end-of-the-year deadline to comply with pollution standards in exchange for extra control program requirements. However, the bill contains many other provisions opposed by the Reagan Administration, such as controls on the precursors of acid rain, and chances of action this year are uncertain.
"The trouble with the EPA policy is that it takes the heat off us," Chafee said.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Working Group on Acid Rain, said the EPA policy is "a congressional Dunkirk. While the House leadership tries to decide whether to postpone another deadline, EPA is stepping in to make policy where Congress fears to tread."
The agency is telling the states that unless Congress acts, it will prohibit construction of large new sources of pollution in areas that can't come into compliance quickly. Other areas, including Los Angeles, would also face loss of federal highway and sewer aid unless they could show how they would reduce pollution 3% per year beyond reductions resulting from national control programs.