43% Feel Business Should Foot Bill for Clean Air, Poll Finds

TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

A new poll commissioned by business interests in the state has found that 43% of Southern Californians believe business and industry, more than individual consumers, should pay for cleaning up the air.

Moreover, nearly 60% of those polled said they would support air pollution controls even if it meant banning certain businesses and industries from the basin that comprises Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

Indeed, Southern Californians appeared to be so disturbed by smog that 58% said they had seriously considered moving out of region during the past year.

The poll was conducted at a time when business and industry are facing costly new air pollution controls as part of the South Coast Air Quality Management District's 20-year plan to bring the region into compliance with federal clean air standards. Before the plan was adopted earlier this year, opponents repeatedly had warned that it would drive businesses and jobs out of the basin.

Results of the survey, which was conducted by the Wirthlin Group, a public opinion pollster, were released Monday at a forum sponsored jointly by Hitachi Ltd. and the California and Los Angeles Area chambers of commerce. Financed by Hitachi, the telephone poll was conducted in September among 400 respondents.

The findings were seized upon immediately by air quality officials as proof of public support for the AQMD's tough new anti-smog controls.

"If I were a member of business, I would be concerned," said AQMD Executive Officer James M. Lents. "They need to realize the public is supportive of cleaning up the air and the public is supportive of us cleaning up business."

But one top-ranking chamber official said there was no reason for "any great apprehension."

"Business is already paying very substantially for cleaning up the air and is anticipating paying even more," said Kirk West, president of the California Chamber of Commerce. Ray Remy, president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, voiced similar views.

Although most of those polled said they would be willing to make certain changes in life styles such as car-pooling or riding public transit if it were available, fewer than half said they would abide by regulations that outlawed back-yard barbecues, aerosol sprays and gasoline-powered lawn mowers.

When they were asked who should be "most responsible" for paying to clean up the air, 43% answered major industry, 22% state government, 14% federal government, 10% consumers and 5% local government.

When asked which steps they would be "most willing" to take to reduce smog, 25% said car-pooling and 24% said using public transit if it were available. Another 18% said they would drive vehicles powered by cleaner alternative fuels and 18% said they would work flexible hours to reduce traffic congestion.

But only 9% said they supported increases in taxes or fees to pay for air pollution controls.

While the AQMD is not calling for a ban on back-yard barbecues and aerosol sprays, there is a perception--based largely on statements by opponents to the air quality plan--that such restrictions are being contemplated.

When asked if they would follow a law banning back-yard barbecues, aerosol sprays and gasoline-powered lawn mowers, 46% said they would abide completely by the rule, 43% said they would partially abide, and 9% said they would completely ignore the restriction. Another 3% had no opinion.

Based on that finding, Jack Torobin, manager of the Wirthlin Group's Los Angeles office, told a press conference: "There is a level of inflexibility we probably did not expect to see."

Torobin said later, however, that the willingness among those polled to car-pool or use public transit was encouraging.

"The interesting angle here is the fact that we're not totally wedded to our cars or existing systems of transportation. There's some flexibility there. . . . People see transportation solutions as a way out of the (smog) problem," he said.

Significantly, 57% said they would support increasing the gasoline tax 5 cents a gallon-- provided the money was earmarked for transportation and highway improvements.

Torobin called the 58% of residents who had seriously thought about leaving the Los Angeles area during the past year "sizable." A similar poll conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area before the recent earthquake found that only 34% had considered leaving, principally because of housing costs.

But even though many had thought of leaving, 65% of those polled believed their overall quality of life was good. Among those, 16% said the quality of life was very good and 49% said it was somewhat good.

The margin of error in the poll was 5% in either direction, Torobin said.

BACKGROUND

Last March, the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved a far-reaching clean air plan for the Los Angeles Basin that is intended to bring the four-county region of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties into compliance with federal clean air standards by the year 2007. The plan envisions more than 120 different air pollution controls on industry, consumer products and motor vehicles. Business interests have worried that the plan will be too stringent and will cost as much as $12.8 billion a year, driving out jobs and businesses. That point has been vigorously disputed by the AQMD, which has estimated compliance costs at $2.9 billion a year for the first five years. The AQMD also has said the plan will bring 80,200 more jobs into the region by 2007.

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