Deadline Approaches for Clean-Air Decisions : EPA is under order to attain minimum health standards in the county. Cars fueled by natural gas may be a solution.


It's crunch time for those responsible for cleaning up local air pollution, and in certain respects this means you and me. Next week, at the Ventura County Hall of Administration, local officials, business people and members of the public are going to meet with folks from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The feds are under court order to step in and make Ventura County attain minimum healthful air quality--using methods determined in Washington.

Local business face possible shutdowns or expensive refitting--which means potential job loss, according the EPA. Local drivers may be looking at "no-drive" days.

We have only a few weeks to complete an alternative plan to counter the Washington one. The rub is that it has to meet the national healthful air standard. But how we do that is largely up to us.

The EPA will hear testimony next Wednesday but take written comments until the end of August. Then, if they approve of our locally originated solution, it will be put into effect next February. If our ideas are short of the mark, Uncle Sam's ideas will rule.

The irony is that it was a local group, Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, that brought the suit that created this situation. It contended that local and state enforcement of air-quality standards were short of the Federal mark.

The Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and the county's Council on Economic Vitality will be at the hearings supporting such smog-busting measures as a half-cent increase in county sales taxes to support mass transit and higher vehicle registration fees keyed to miles driven.

A further irony here is that, to preserve local business--and the jobs involved--the council and the association are all for shifting the burden of cutting down smog away from industrial polluters to the driving public. You and me. We've been the source of two thirds of the mess all along.

What to do? Earthwatch has reported on the possibility of buying low-pollution cars and vans. The ones presently being marketed locally by Ford, GM and Chrysler are powered by natural gas--which is 60% cleaner than the wet stuff.

Last week these Detroit firms got a little more serious and launched a joint scheme to create an industry-standard compressed gas tank. This could, they say, aid them in eliminating the price differential, which presently makes clean air vehicles 10% more expensive. This has hurt sales, even though operating expenses are much less and the engines last forever.

The Gas Co. says the number of natural gas vehicle refueling stations is growing locally.

And their new joint-venture vehicle conversion facility in East Los Angeles is about to deliver 15 vans for Gas Co. use in our county next month.

You and I can have our Caprice or Caravan converted there--but only by plunking down several grand.

The American Lung Assn. of Ventura County supports natural gas transportation as a way to fight respiratory disease, and they use such a van. "For clean-air driving, it's what's most feasible for the everyday person now," said association executive Edna Ray. Next week she's launching a county-wide public relations campaign including a 30-minute video entitled, "Clean Air Is Up To You."

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District supports any sort of cleaner engine, methanol, natural gas or electric, although they don't have the legal power to mandate such uses. They are releasing their own clean-air video, "Our Future Is Up in the Air," next month, with Leonard Nimoy narrating.

"If we don't meet the federal mandate somehow they could impose sanctions, warned district spokesperson Barbara Page. "Even gas rationing."


* FYI: For information on the July 20 clean air standards hearings at the Ventura County Hall of Administration call the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (415) 744-1151 or the hot line of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. (800) 880-3700.

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