Reducing Air Pollution

The Times deserves the public's appreciation for the in-depth series on the technical, economic and political complexities of reducing air pollution (Part A, April 28-30). But let's not run up the white flag just yet. By all reasonable criteria, the past two years have seen tremendous strides toward clean air:

* Planned reductions in air pollution are on target at 5% a year. Our AQMD board has adopted 26 major rules that will eventually reduce air pollution from today's levels by 15%. The last two years have been the cleanest on record.

* Opinion polls show continued support for the steps necessary to achieve clean air--even a willingness to pay up to 55 cents a day to breathe more healthful air.

* The Legislature and Congress adopted tough, new clean air laws incorporating concepts contained in our 1989 air quality management plan--ideas like annual emission reductions and clean fuels, even electric cars.

* Setting a precedent for the world, the state Air Resources Board ordered a 90% reduction in auto tailpipe emissions. By 1998, 2% of all new autos sold in California must be zero-polluting electric cars, increasing to 10% by 2003.

* Key business leaders now advocate clean air, not only to protect public health but their markets: Customers are demanding less polluting, more healthful products.

Two years ago, who could have imagined ARCO and Chevron producing less-polluting reformulated gasoline and using clean air themes in their ads? Or UNOCAL buying high-polluting old cars and junking them? Or that GM would develop and sell an electric car, the Impact? Creative industry leaders are suggesting not only new technologies but new approaches to clean air, like market incentives.

These achievements lead me, at least, to conclude that the chances of achieving clean air are greater today than they were two years ago.

Yes, there will be opposition. We welcome criticism from business, environmentalists and others. Yes, it will be expensive. But we must never delude ourselves into believing a shorter life span for our children is an acceptable trade-off to reduce those costs.

With the continued support of the public, their elected representatives, the industries that respond to our needs and the technical ingenuity of our citizens, this basin is destined to have clean air by 2010.

JAMES M. LENTS

Executive Officer, South Coast

Air Quality Management District

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