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Smog Plan Would Harm Economy, L.A. Chamber Says : Environment: Wilson cabinet official supports report, but critics say governor has been slow to address problem.


Accompanied by Gov. Pete Wilson's top environmental aide, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce officials Monday estimated that 12 controversial Clinton Administration proposals to clean the Southland's smoggy air could hurt the region's economy as severely as recent defense industry cutbacks.

An economic report released by the influential business group projects that the federal proposals--which focus on fighting pollution from ships, trucks, airports and railroads--would cost an average of $3 billion a year and eliminate 115,000 jobs by 2010 in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The report, however, generated less debate Monday than the appearance of James Strock, California's secretary for environmental protection, at a chamber briefing to support the group's position. Strock announced that "Gov. Wilson is very troubled by the implications" of the federal clean-air plan.

Critics called Strock's presence hypocritical, since Wilson's staff and his state Air Resources Board have been silent despite requests for help in crafting the federal rules.

"Pete Wilson is basically missing in action," said Tom Soto, president of the Coalition for Clean Air, an environmental group. "We would like to see more aggressive leadership from the governor on this. Unfortunately, it seems this has been caught up in election-year politics."

In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed 1,600 pages of measures for the Los Angeles Basin that would eliminate 70% of smog-forming emissions. A federal court ordered the EPA to develop the plan because the state had failed to come up with its own program to comply with Congress' 1977 Clean Air Act. Similar plans were also proposed for Sacramento and Ventura counties, although the chamber report did not deal with those regions.

Upon releasing their plan, EPA officials issued a challenge to state and local leaders to come up with their own plans if they did not like the proposals.

But while local business leaders, environmentalists and air quality officials have been working together throughout the summer to help the EPA fashion alternatives, Strock and the state Air Resources Board have not participated.

EPA Regional Administrator Felicia Marcus said Monday that she found Strock's criticism and the governor's lack of participation in the dialogue disappointing.

"We're ready, willing and eager to work with the state on a plan that makes economic and environmental sense, but so far they have been strangely absent from our discussions," Marcus said. "They've been invited to all the meetings, but they don't say much. This has been disappointing to a lot of us because we want them to be successful with this."

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Kathleen Brown weighed in on the debate Monday as well, assailing Wilson for "hypocrisy and inaction."

"Rather than devote valuable time to key negotiations, Wilson officials are wasting time by holding a publicity stunt that cannot and will not put us any closer to protecting Los Angeles' air quality," Brown said in a statement.

Brown has not submitted a proposal to the EPA but said she generally supports such proposals as sales tax exemptions for low-polluting cars and mandatory alternative-fuel cabs and shuttles at airports.

Many observers call the silence from the state air board puzzling because the agency under the Wilson and Deukmejian administrations has forged the nation's most stringent standards for automobiles and fuels.

Strock said Monday that participating in the sessions to help craft the federal rules has not been a high priority to the Wilson Administration because the state is developing its own plan.

Under federal law, the Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District have until Nov. 15 to submit an approved state plan to the EPA. Strock said the ARB intends to vote on a plan in October.

Strock said Wilson is committed to finding less burdensome solutions than the EPA's but declined to give any specifics. He said the state will respond in writing to the EPA's proposals Wednesday, the legal deadline for comments on the federal plan.

Dan Pellissier, spokesman for the state EPA, said one state proposal will be to develop "statewide market incentives" modeled after the AQMD's smog-trading program that allows industries to buy and sell rights to pollute. He said the state also will urge the federal government to impose national standards on trains, planes, airlines and ships, instead of rules that just target California's smoggy cities.

A loss of 115,000 jobs "would almost exactly equal the number of aerospace jobs lost in the South Coast basin during the past five years," the chamber's report says.

Lynn Reaser, a senior vice president and chief economist at First Interstate Bancorp who authored the chamber's report, said cleaner air has economic benefits, including growth of new industries that produce clean fuels and cars. But she said the financial risks will outweigh the benefits.

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