Political Forecast : Toward the Year 2000: Will We Breathe Cleaner Air?

Forecast interviews were conducted by Xandra Kayden, visiting scholar, Center for Politics and Policy, Claremont Graduate School, and the author of "Surviving Power" (Free Press)

Will tough new anti-pollution regulations really make Southern California air quality better by the year 2000? How will the changes affect you personally?

Mary D. Nichols, senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council:

I think it is quite certain that we will have fewer days when we violate the first-stage emergency episode level. Perhaps we might even be at a point where we don't have any episodes because of an enormous effort on the part of many different industries and the consuming public to use cleaner technology than the ones currently in use: the turnover of our automotive fleet, beginning the successful introduction of electric cars or extremely low-polluting, alternative-fueled vehicles.

We will see shifting of some polluting businesses to electricity, from those that currently burn fossil fuels. More of our electricity will be generated outside the basin with clean-burning and renewable fuels, including solar and geothermal. I think we will have a goodly amount of energy conservation in effect, which will reduce the overall demand for electric power.

By the year 2000 there will be a few million more of us here. We are beginning to see some serious efforts made on the part of local planning and transportation planning to cope with that growth in a way that promotes infill instead of sprawl, and that can be serviced by mass transit, which is a much more energy-efficient and less-polluting way of getting around.

Personally, I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I was part of the process that made it all happen--tell them stories about how much worse it used to be when I was young.

Dan Garcia, Los Angeles attorney, member of the city's Police Commission and former president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission:

I think the air quality will be somewhat better. We still have--and have had for some time--the strictest controls on stationary sources of pollution in the world. With new regulations being issued practically every day as to manufacturing and other sources of pollution, those levels will be diminished even further.

The bottom line is that there is an open question as to whether the burdens of achieving air quality have been fairly distributed. It seems apparent, at least to the extent that you can single out air quality--and this is hard--as being a major contributing factor to the diminution of manufacturing jobs, those jobs are held disproportionately by minorities. If you are looking at increased costs for utilities, that is a regressive sort of tax.

Miriam Levon, senior consultant in environmental sciences, ARCO:

With the new car technology, the air is going to get significantly better because the new cars are better able to handle the emissions. . . .

The one biggest source for reducing emissions is the automobile, and the California Clean Air Act recognized this. This is why the major provision for transportation control measures (van pools, car pools, other public transportation) are now required for every company that employs more than 100 people. Such rules (help) to make people aware that they will directly contribute to reducing smog by increasing the occupancy of vehicles on the road.

Personally, I commute about 40 miles a day to work, so that will help me as far as just the daily routine on the road. There are going to be less cars on the road. ARCO has had this (van-pooling and ride-sharing) program in effect for close to 20 years now. I participate in a van pool.

John Mack, president of the Urban League:

There are some competing and conflicting agendas here. . . . On the one end of the spectrum . . . environmentalists are rightly upset and exercised by the terrible condition of the environment. (But) I think some of the approaches have been so sweeping and so severe that they part company with business.

I have been hearing recently from small, minority businesses that want to comply with the regulations that people are throwing at them, but frankly, it would put them out of business.

Clearly, cleaner air will have an impact on me personally as a resident. The Urban League will get increasingly concerned with some of the issues that our constituency faces. We have such a dearth of businesses and we certainly want to see the few that we have survive--not only survive, but survive properly.

I think it is important that we begin to have communication across sectors among the various, sometimes competing interests.

Paul Ong, associate professor of urban planning, UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning:

There is no doubt in my mind that, over all, the quality will improve. We do know that as we start tightening down on manufacturing, it will lead to some job losses, and it will also, obviously, lead to the creation of other jobs--particularly jobs that supply equipment to control emissions better .

Unfortunately, we also know that the group that is displaced is not the same group that is going to get employed. . . . We do know that women and minorities tend to be displaced at a higher rate. They lose their jobs at a higher rate; they tend to be unemployed for a longer time, and when they do find new employment they tend to suffer much larger losses in earnings than other groups.

We don't have in place an employment policy to match our environmental policy.

Lamont Hempel, assistant professor and associate director of the Center for Politics and Policy, Claremont Graduate School:

My guess is that it will be cleaner in the year 2000, but will it be cleaner in the year 2010? There is a race between the increase in vehicles and the increase of environmental control measures.

We have learned that environmental regulation is a sometimes thing. We can expect reversals. We can expect some backlash. . . . .

I think I am going to own an electric vehicle in the year 2000. I will be using telecommuting for some of my business travel, and I will just use electronic mail for things that would have involved a trip with my car in past years. It will probably affect my mental health if only visibility is improved. I am going to enjoy the aesthetics of living in Los Angeles now a lot more than I do today.

By the year 2000, I am going to be more concerned about the things I can't see: toxins in the air. And I am going to be more concerned about the things that I can't control as a resident of the Los Angeles area--which means trans-boundary environmental pollution (greenhouse effects, carbon-dioxide emissions), things that the Air Quality Management District can only control locally without having any appreciable affect on the planet's atmosphere. I suspect that as our technology to detect what is in the air improves, we are going to find new things to worry about.

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