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Anti-Smog Proposal Would Hobble Transit and Shipping, Industries Say : Pollution: Critics of federal plan voice concerns but few alternative solutions at EPA hearing. A compromise strategy may be developed in behind-the-scenes meetings of environmentalists, businesses and government officials.

July 19, 1994|MARLA CONE | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

California industries on Monday painted a grim picture of what would happen under the Clinton Administration's far-reaching plan to clean up the Los Angeles region's smog, saying it would force airlines, truckers, railroads and ships to severely reduce transport of cargo and passengers.

The assessment came as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kicked off a week of hearings to gauge reaction to its sweeping anti-smog strategy. The proposal marks the first time the federal government has stepped into the decades-long fray over how to clean up the region's air pollution.

The EPA's involvement came only after the federal agency lost a 10-year legal battle. Los Angeles-area environmentalists had filed suit to force the federal government to step in after local and state officials failed for two decades to comply with the federal Clean Air Act.

Targeting the four-county Los Angeles Basin as well as the Sacramento area and Ventura County, the 1,600 pages of proposed rules would control pollution from virtually everything--airliners and lawn mowers, giant aerospace factories and small auto mechanic shops, paints and pesticides, livestock manure and bakeries. The EPA estimates that the cost of cleaning the air will be $4 billion annually in the four counties, plus $150 million a year each for the Sacramento area and Ventura County.

The EPA's proposed regulations would primarily affect sources of smog that have gone relatively unregulated--ships, railroads, airlines, interstate trucks and recreational boats.

One controversial rule would require airlines to comply with a pollution limit for aircraft and ground operations that declines annually by 4% to 9%. Another requires ships to pay fees upon docking based on how clean-burning their engines are.

Many of the estimated 75 speakers at Monday's hearing in Diamond Bar said they resented federal intrusion into an issue historically left to local and state officials.

"Like every Californian, we all want cleaner air," said Monrovia Mayor Bob Bartlett. "But turning the state upside down to support bureaucratic regulations without any guarantee of achieving the goal is, forgive me, crazy."

Despite a plea from EPA regional director Felicia Marcus to offer options and not just criticism, only a few speakers offered alternatives for cleaning the air.

"We want to know how to construct a better plan," Marcus said.

Away from the hearings, however, the real work of forging consensus on a plan is occurring behind the scenes at small meetings of business leaders, environmentalists and EPA officials. At those sessions, participants are trying to hammer out options over the next month that would impose the least economic pain on a recession-weary state.

The attempts at collaboration--which are noteworthy because all sides have been at odds for years over how to control smog--are viewed as a last-ditch effort. The EPA is required by court order to have a plan that achieves pollution standards in the region by 2010.

Marcus said the agency's final smog rules, due Feb. 14, may differ dramatically from the current proposal because industry seems to be working on "some creative options."

Airline officials said Monday that if the proposed rules were enforced, flights at the Los Angeles region's five airports would have to be reduced by 40% to 60% by 2005, which would inconvenience travelers, cost the local economy $35 billion a year and eliminate 345,000 jobs, according to the Air Transport Assn. Many airlines, for example, might have to consolidate operations at Los Angeles International Airport and cut flights at Orange County and the other outlying terminals, airport officials testified.

The trucking, railroad and shipping industries described similar consequences.

Transportation officials said, for instance, that the cost of shipping goods by sea to Los Angeles would increase 200% to 300% and that Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors would lose business to ports that do not face smog fees, such as San Diego. The Los Angeles Harbor Department has suggested that in place of imposing smog fees, the EPA could reduce onshore pollution by telling shippers to use ocean corridors farther offshore.

California truckers said the EPA's requirement for cleaner-burning truck engines could cost $5 billion a year just for truckers based in the state.

"I don't think this is what President Clinton had in mind when he promised to help us rebuild after the earthquakes and fires and riots," said Karen Rasmussen, vice president of the California Trucking Assn.

Conversely, some local businesses, most notably the Southern California Gas Co., applauded the plan, saying it finally shifts some of the burden away from factories in the Southland that already have taken expensive steps to curb smog.

The EPA's Marcus said many industries are "assuming the worst" and said the agency would "absolutely not" enact a rule if, for example, the airline industry showed that it would have to eliminate half its flights to comply.

"We're not interested in harming commerce," she said. "From the beginning we said, 'Here's what we propose, tell us if it makes sense.' "

Veronica Kun of the Natural Resources Defense Council called attacks on the plan "a lot of rhetoric and narrow self-interest," adding that behind-the-scenes talks are much less polarized. The environmentalists stressed that cleaning the air would revitalize, not harm, the economy because it would mean new transportation and pollution-control technologies.

Marcus said the EPA's hope is that local and state air quality officials will come up with suitable rules so the federal government can drop out. But environmentalists warned the EPA not to back off too soon, since, according to Coalition for Clean Air President Tom Soto, state efforts "seem to be driven by election-year politics."

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