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Clean Air Measures

August 30, 1994

Clean air is essential to the Southland's future. Despite recent progress, air pollution remains a serious health threat that costs our region billions of dollars a year. Yet David Friedman correctly recognizes in "Smog Busting Run Amok" (Opinion, Aug. 21) that the South Coast Air Quality Management District has become more sensitive to "economic costs and effectiveness" in its clean-up programs. As an example, AQMD has dropped from its proposed clean air plan a $10,000 per ton excess emission fee proposed by the federal EPA plan for the ports and airports. Other similar EPA-proposed measures have also been dropped by the AQMD. These actions by the AQMD will help maintain our region's prominence in manufacturing, trade, commerce and tourism. We urge the federal EPA to follow suit with more reasonable measures.

Many local industries have been stringently regulated, so Friedman correctly argues that increased federal support for clean technologies is essential. This is especially true for electric vehicles, since cars, trucks and buses, along with ships, planes and trains, are the single largest source of pollution.

To resolve issues raised by Mayor Richard Riordan regarding the regional clean air plan, we at AQMD are meeting with federal, state and Los Angeles officials, along with independent atmospheric scientists. I am confident these meetings will enhance our mutual understanding of how to achieve clean air and a healthy economy.

HENRY WEDAA, Chairman

SCAQMD, Diamond Bar

*

Friedman's column does an injustice to the highly complex and vitally important issues of public health and the economy. As someone who has read and respected Friedman's work for the last few years, I was astounded at how ill-informed and malicious his piece was.

He got one thing right: Thanks in part to the efforts of the AQMD and the people of Southern California, the air is indeed getting cleaner. But 13 million people are still breathing unhealthy levels of air pollution--the worst in the nation. So, we have a problem, and solving it requires that all levels of government and the public address it honestly and together.

Friedman's provocative rhetoric about a federal "takeover" of these efforts is completely off base. The air quality goals and responsibilities faced by Southern California decision-makers under the Clean Air Act have been exactly the same since the act was amended by Congress in 1990. The only new development is that the courts have ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prepare a plan of action because these responsibilities have not yet been met at the state and local level.

He implies that U.S. EPA has discretion over its role and the timing of its actions. This is not true. These matters were argued for years in the courts--going as high as the Supreme Court--before U.S. EPA was ordered to take action under a strict timetable.

Let me also make one point very clear: If the state and the AQMD fulfill their Clean Air Act responsibilities and submit a strong air quality plan, U.S. EPA can step back from direct involvement and return to its role of oversight and support. Ironically, the federal involvement can help state and local agencies succeed by bringing in regulation of some sources they cannot regulate. We've said we'll contribute that piece to their plans, but only to the extent they want us to.

And while no one would claim that clean air won't cost money, Friedman tosses about hypothetical, worst-case projections, based on a tortured twisting of our proposals, while ignoring the health benefits and distorting our consistent support for building the Southern California economy with new, pollution-reducing industries.

FELICIA MARCUS

Regional Administrator, EPA

San Francisco

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The EPA is one of the worst lumbering bureaucracies of our time. The EPA's impact on business--and business is what the economy is all about--is tragic. My tiny laundry business, which grosses less than $80,000 a year, has been bashed by sewer fees and assessments for 10 years by the Orange County Sanitation District because of regulations mandated by the EPA.

Friedman hit the nail on the head when he stated that smog is more a function of "geography and weather, not because people drive and own more cars." Furthermore, I am sure that any significant amount of auto emission reduction that has taken place happened as a result of downsizing of autos. Wouldn't you think reducing gasoline consumption from 10 to 12 miles per gallon as cars used in the mid '70s, to 20 to 30 miles per gallon in the '90s, would reduce pollutants to the air without emission control devices?

JAMES E. CROMMETT

Orange

*

Friedman's litany of problems associated with the EPA's implementation of the statute is right on the mark--but the focus of responsibility is misdirected. While the environmental enthusiasts inside the bureaucracy of the EPA do share the immediate blame, the basic problem lies with the statute itself. The law on which all this nonsense is based is not cast in stone--it was made by Congress and it can be changed by Congress.

The original statute was no doubt well motivated, supported by tunnel-vision idealists and enacted with the highest of principles--but with no regard to its unintended consequences. Congress can (and should) repeal the Environmental Protection Act and replace it only after thoroughly evaluating the benefits and the economic consequences.

JACK ISKEN

Encino

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