US seeking the way towards cleaner air

Feb 12, 1997 01:00 AM

President Clinton's top environmental official emphatically defended stricter, more expensive air pollution standards and said the debate should focus on protecting lives - not whether people will lose their backyard barbecues. - The proposal before the Environmental Protection Agency has enraged business interests, including some of the most powerful corporate lobbying groups in Washington. They say it will cost tens of billions of dollars with questionable health benefits.
Appearing before a congressional hearing EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the tougher standards reflect scientific research showing current allowable limits on smog-causing ozone and soot fail to protect public health. She said that more than 240 peer-reviewed scientific studies - the most ever considered by the EPA in a health standard review - show that the allowable levels of ozone and microscopic soot demonstrate that as many as 20,000 elderly people are dying prematurely and thousands of children and adults suffer respiratory ailments each year because of allowable dirty air.
Can you assure us that backyard barbecues are not in jeopardy? Sen. Joe Lieberman asked Browner.
"You are free to barbecue, mow your lawn and enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks," replied Browner. She said that despite some critics' claims, the new air pollution standards can be met without imposing such lifestyle restrictions.
"It is possible to push too far, too fast,'' said Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., who suggested that the EPA leave the ozone standard alone and hold off on setting standards for soot until the next five-year review after more research on its health impact. Chafee, whose criticism carried particular weight because of his solid reputation among environmentalists, said he feared the EPA proposals could prompt "a revolt" in states and in the Congress and pressure lawmakers to re-examine the 1990 Clean Air Act, one of the most successful environmental laws on the books.
But other senators suggested that Browner was on the right track and had a responsibility under the law to establish a health standard without regard to cost and, as Lieberman put it, "tell (people) what science says is needed to protect their health."
The EPA plans to impose the new standard as a final regulation this summer. It will take several years to accumulate monitoring data to establish what parts of the country will have to develop new plans to reduce air emissions. It could take 15 years or more before many of the areas will be expected to meet the new standards, EPA officials said.

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