In a victory for environmentalists, the Environmental Protection Agency will propose tougher air quality standards today that could force many cities to impose costly pollution controls and change many Americans’ lifestyles.
The EPA plans to toughen restrictions for ozone levels by a third and, for the first time, regulate minute particles of dust in the air, a Clinton administration source said Tuesday.
The agency concluded that the current standard does not adequately protect public health, said the source, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
The EPA has scheduled a press conference for today to announce the proposal, which must go through a months-long review before it can become law.
The plan is likely to be hotly debated in Congress, which could overturn the rules under a new law that seeks to protect small businesses. The Clean Air Act itself also is up for renewal.
The rules also could be challenged in court. Some business groups, including the American Trucking Association, have indicated they will file suit charging that the rules unfairly hurt small business.
Environmental and business groups have lobbied EPA and White House officials over whether stricter air pollution limits are needed to protect Americans’ health.
Opponents say that states and cities may have to impose Draconian pollution controls, including travel restrictions, mandatory car pooling, construction caps and curbs on the use of everything from pleasure boats to lawn mowers.
But industry groups lost the battle, said Paul Bailey, director of health and environmental affairs for the American Petroleum Institute.
Last-minute appeals did not change the EPA’s inclination to adopt the tougher standards proposed by its technical staff, he and the administration source both said.
The EPA will propose new standards that would require communities to cut ozone levels to 0.08 parts per million cubic feet of air from 0.12, the current standard, they said. But the readings will be taken over an average of eight hours, rather than during a single one-hour period, making it somewhat easier to meet the new standard.
The agency also wants to regulate tiny particles of dust, down to 2.5 microns in diameter, he said. Current standards apply only to particles of 10 microns or larger. As a comparison, 70 microns is the width of a human hair.
Health experts argue the smaller particles - many of which come from industrial or utility smokestacks - cause the most harm because they lodge deep in the lungs.
They suggested the new rules could cost billions of dollars to implement and will double or triple the number of areas that do not now meet federal standards.