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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

CLEAR THE AIR

Air Date: Week of June 13, 1997

Commentator Julia King has heard all the arguments pro and con on cutting ozone pollution, and says it's time to clear the air. Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana and comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Last fall the Environmental Protection Agency made a dramatic proposal to cut ground level ozone, the major cause of smog, and to reduce airborne dust or particulate matter. A number of scientific studies show that these pollutants cause thousands of deaths each year. But implementing the EPA's proposed rules could cost a lot of money, and a powerful coalition of industries that would be hard-hit by tighter standards is waging an intense lobbying effort to stop the EPA. The campaign may be working. Members of both the US House and Senate have grilled Agency officials about their proposals. Dozens of Democrats have joined Republicans in letters challenging the EPA's plans. Even some Clinton Administration officials have questioned the rulemaking. Commentator Julia King has heard all the arguments pro and con, and says it's time to clear the air.

KING: I read recently that the new Clean Air Act might include draconian measures. A picture developed in my head of a squad of environment police hauling off my family's second car. I envisioned a dour, matronly enforcer prying from my fingers a bottle of styling spritz. But then I read further: no mention of commando raids. No talk of impounding the second, third, even fourth vehicles that some American families own. There wasn't one word about corporal punishment for driving half a block to a video store, even on fine spring days. At issue instead is carpooling and some restrictions on barbecuing, pleasure boating, or lawnmowing. A groan emanates from the masses: we're Americans. We cherish our polluting pleasures. Like the Alamo, we remember George Bush standing at the helm of his gas-guzzling watercraft. This, even as the country grappled with an uncertain oil future in the wake of the Gulf War. Ah, defiance. It's sweeter than baklava.

But as every 5-year-old knows, too much baklava will rot your teeth, and too much lawn mowing will fill your skies with smog, or more precisely, particulates and ozone. The EPA is considering tougher restrictions on the 2 pollutants because they've been linked to increased respiratory ailments, asthma attacks, allergies, and even premature death. But even industry leaders tell asthmatics to suck it up.

Everybody has a cross to bear, they seem to be saying. For some its' respiratory ailments; for others it's bad hair. Life doesn't come with a comfort guarantee. And industry might have a point, if the proposed regulations were enacted solely as a fight against allergies. But by squabbling about asthma and the diameter of particulate matter, we're missing the bigger picture. Americans have to change the way they live. We can do it now, while we have some space for trial and error, or we can do it when we've burned our last barrel of oil. But at the risk of sounding like Henny Penny, that proverbial sky will fall. According to the Department of Energy, the US will import 60% of its oil by the year 2010. But some experts think cheap oil will disappear before the year 2000. Carpooling won't seem nearly as draconian when it costs 100 bucks to fill a gas tank.

So the Clean Air Act is not about itchy eyes. It's about learning to walk to the video store on fine spring days. It's about pulling a paddle through the water instead of revving a motorboat engine. And it's about doing it now, before the environment police come knocking at our doors.

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

 

 

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