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Great Lakes Article:

Would stricter clean air rules cost jobs?
No: New rules protect public health, while saving money in long run
06/28/2002

By Lana Pollack / Special to The Detroit News

   Americans have the right to breathe safe air. That right is protected by the Clean Air Act of 1970, which instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to set enforceable rules that protect public health. These principles are so fundamental to American values, and so clearly stated in the law, that they have withstood 30 years of political and judicial challenges; yet the battle for clean air is not over.
   The Clean Air Act makes it clear that the standards for protecting our health should be based on the best available science. Cost is also considered, but only to determine the most efficient way to meet new health-based standards.
   Last year, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote an opinion in which the court unanimously upheld new EPA rules to regulate ground-level ozone (or smog). The EPA issued the rules based on a growing base of scientific knowledge that shows gauging the amount of ozone it is safe to breath based on a one-hour measurement does not adequately reflect real-life conditions or the public health threat.
   The new rule would use an eight-hour measurement to determine safe ozone levels, because science has shown that breathing dirty air over several hours is most likely to cause lung damage. This lower level for allowable smog contaminants is also based on dozens of studies showing that current levels are substantially affecting thousands of people suffering from heart, lung and bronchial diseases.
   Smog forms when nitrogen oxides combine with other chemicals on hot days. On smoggy days, thousands of Michiganians suffer from shortness of breath, chest pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks, which can be fatal. Repeated exposures to high ozone conditions -- such as Michigan suffered for 25 days last year -- can permanently damage lung tissue. Since the air in parts of Michigan has been shown to hurt health, we will have to take steps during the next decade to reduce smog and other pollutants.
   Most smog components at the ground level come from three major sources: coal-fired power plants, some manufacturing processes and vehicle emissions. Automobile emissions have been dramatically reduced, and there has been some progress in capturing pollutants from industrial paint shops. However, dirty old coal-burning power plants take advantage of a loophole in the Clean Air Act to operate without modern pollution controls.
   While the Supreme Court has just upheld one part of the Clean Air Act, the Bush administration is proposing to rollback another -- a section called New Source Review (NSR). According to the EPA, this program, which phases in modern pollution control technologies on the most polluting industrial facilities, has prevented the emission of more than 300 million tons of pollution since 1977.
   If the Bush plan were adopted, the dirtiest old coal-burning power plants could continue to avoid installing modern pollution controls, putting millions of pounds of additional particulate matter (very fine soot) into the air and into people's lungs. Thousands of people in Michigan would face increased risk of heart attacks.
   While the American Lung Association and doctors don't think even the EPA's new eight-hour standards and the current NSR rule do enough to protect vulnerable children and adults, we can count on polluting industries to whine about the costs of clean air and assert we need more studies to prove dirty air is bad for people's health. Fortunately, a unanimous Supreme Court isn't buying it.
   These same exaggerated claims were made before the Clean Air Act was passed. As it turned out, for every dollar spent to clean the air, $45 was saved in health care costs. With health care costs soaring and families seeing that dirty air sickens and kills, virtually all Americans understand clean air as a right, a necessity and a great bargain.

Lana Pollack is president of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing.
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