New EPA Smog Rules Don’t Settle Debate

Last week, following years of legal wrangling, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed officials in 31 states they must develop new pollution controls because the air in some of their counties does not meet quality standards. Across the country, 150 million Americans are affected by this problem.

Acting under court order, the EPA identified all or parts of 474 counties that either have air that is too dirty or that contributes to neighboring counties’ inability to meet the federal air standards for smog-causing ozone. In a companion regulation, the EPA also issued new requirements aimed at curtailing air pollution in national parks. Both announcements are the result of court settlements with environmental groups.

Activists, meanwhile, remain concerned that the rules will not be evenly applied nationwide. Some groups are threatening to go back to court to require even more stringent standards.

“When we are finished, our entire nation will have cleaner air,” EPA chief Mike Leavitt said in a recent speech.

Frank O’Donnell, director of the Clean Air Trust, disagrees, claiming the rules allow some states to use cleanup methods that predate 1990 rules set by Congress. “Interestingly, in most cases, the states permitted weaker requirements will be states that voted for President Bush in the last presidential election,” he said.