Declaring that state and regional clean-air plans for the Los Angeles Basin are inadequate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today is expected to propose a series of new smog controls, including possible "no-drive" days for commuters.
In preparing to impose the federal controls on the four-county basin, the EPA said a far-reaching clean air plan adopted last year by the South Coast Air Quality Management District falls short of federal requirements because it is based in part on unproven or non-existent technology.
The EPA plan to impose weekly no-drive days would occur only after 1996, and only if the EPA decides to meet carbon monoxide standards by the year 2000. The EPA prefers to allow more time to avoid that possibility.
The plan adopted by the AQMD called for tough new controls on a wide range of polluters, from oil refineries and power plants to dry cleaners and back-yard barbecuers.
The basin, which include Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, fails to meet federal clean air standards for four major air pollutants--carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particles. All can cause respiratory illness.
In preparing to announce its federal plan today in Los Angeles and Washington, the EPA appeared almost apologetic in calling for federal action.
Had it not been for a lawsuit brought by two environmental groups, the EPA said it would not have moved to impose its program for the basin.
"Although EPA cannot now approve the (AQMD and state) plan under the current federal Clean Air Act, we recognize that the state and the AQMD have adopted an extraordinarily ambitious and courageous plan that is calculated to achieve air quality standards as soon as is reasonably possible," according to an EPA document obtained by The Times.
"It is simply impossible now for the state and the district to adopt in legally enforceable form all of the measures necessary to realize their attainment goals for the ozone and carbon monoxide standards," the draft document said.
Acting under a federal court order in a case brought by the Sierra Club and Coalition for Clean Air, the EPA clean air plan for the Los Angeles Basin, known as a federal implementation plan, relies heavily on air pollution controls adopted or contemplated by AQMD and the state Air Resources Board.
In several areas, the EPA said it was taking new approaches. It is calling for an alcohol additive to be added to gasoline in the winter months to reduce carbon monoxide emissions when they are at their highest levels.
It also proposed new controls on hydrocarbon emissions from oil tankers and stricter pollution rules on federal vehicles.
Much of the rest of the federal program, however, draws from the AQMD and Air Resources Board plans--including a strong endorsement of the state's intentions to introduce a new generation of super-clean-running cars powered by electricity and other low-emission fuels.
Under a proposal that the Air Resources Board is scheduled to vote on in September, all cars in California must meet this stringent new standard by the year 2000.
Sources also said the EPA will call for a gasoline standard that would reduce evaporation of smog-forming hydrocarbons. The federal proposal is only a modest improvement on a state standard to be reviewed next month.
The EPA apparently has rejected a highly controversial and politically risky gasoline-rationing scheme.
The EPA said the timing of the federal plan is "awkward" because local officials have already embarked on "an extraordinary effort" to meet federal clean air standards for carbon monoxide by the end of 1997, for nitrogen dioxide by the end of 1996, and for ozone by the end of 2007.
The EPA also noted that continuing negotiations in Congress to amend the Clean Air Act could make today's scheduled announcement moot because of changes in the law.
Nonetheless, the EPA said that, in view of the court order, it had no alternative but to move forward.
State and regional officials said Monday that while they have not been briefed on the EPA plan, they doubted that it would significantly advance their efforts.
"It's sort of an insurance policy if the state and local government don't have the guts to follow through on their commitments, then the federal government intends to," said James M. Lents, executive officer of AQMD.
A year ago, the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted a far-reaching clean air plan for the Los Angeles Basin, which includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It called for meeting all federal clean air standards by the year 2007. But environmentalists sued the EPA, saying the local plan violated federal law because it was "unenforceable," relying in part on unproven technology. Environmentalists won the suit, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose its own plan on the basin. That plan will be announced today.