The Clinton administration gave a long-awaited nod of approval Monday to California’s smog plan, calling it a sound and aggressive strategy that, if implemented, should achieve healthful air throughout the state within 15 years.
The sweeping plan, which outlines over 100 anti-smog measures that will cost businesses and consumers billions of dollars per year, was adopted by a state board 16 months ago, after months of debate.
“California put together a pretty darned good road map for getting to clean air, and now they have to follow it,” said Felicia Marcus, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Western regional administrator. “The issue is making sure it gets done, which is a challenging and important task.”
Environmental groups reacted negatively to the conditional approval, accusing the EPA of endorsing a seriously flawed plan that amounts to a “wish list.” They say unless their concerns are addressed, they are likely to sue EPA Administrator Carol Browner - a threat that the EPA takes seriously since it has lost major legal battles over earlier California smog plans.
“EPA and the state will need Houdini to achieve clean air with this plan full of vague promises and undefined new technologies which will magically appear,” said Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
California Gov. Pete Wilson said he was pleased with the EPA’s approval, although state air quality officials were still exploring some caveats in the federal agency’s findings.
The sternest warning from the EPA went to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD, which is responsible for implementing smog measures in the four-county Los Angeles basin. The basin has the United States’ worst air pollution.
The AQMD board has already put off 26 measures aimed at local industries that it had promised to enact in 1994 and 1995. If the AQMD had followed ita plan, it would have already eliminated 72 tons of smog-causing gases, but instead, the AQMD allowed emissions to increase by easing several rules on businsses last year.
In its report, the EPA warned the AQMD that its continued failure to implement the plan “will prolong the unacceptable current levels of pollution and will expose the areas to potential sanctions under the Clean Air Act.”