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Clean Air <i> and</i> a Strong Economy

No one in Southern California wants dirty air. Not Mayor Richard Riordan, not the South Coast Air Quality Management District, not the many residents and businesses that have left the region for cleaner, safer areas or more promising economic climes, and certainly not those who have decided to stay.

But dirty air is what we have, by far the worst in the nation in fact. And it has been far too dirty for decades. Much progress has been made, and that progress must continue; but so, too, must the economic recovery from this region’s devastating recession. Needlessly expensive or severe rules to improve air quality could threaten that recovery.

Through the federal Clean Air Act, Congress has required Southern California and other areas with pollution problems to meet strict air quality goals. Meeting those goals would mean much cleaner air over the basin. Toward that end, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as directed by Congress, has drafted a plan to clean up Southern California’s air. So have the Air Quality Management District and the City of Los Angeles. These draft plans, and rules promulgated by the state Air Resources Board, differ in their projections, models, implications and details. But each moves the basin toward the federal air goals. There are no good guys and bad guys here, only honest differences in approach. There are also differences in responsibility. The EPA, cast by Congress in the role of policeman, has the ultimate obligation to make sure Congress’ goals are met. If the localities fail to produce plans or if their plans don’t achieve federal goals, then the EPA must step in with its tougher, less flexible rules to reduce air emissions. No one, not even the EPA, wants that to happen.

But if the feds have the ultimate responsibility for cleaner air in the L.A. Basin, those of us who live and work here shoulder the biggest financial burden of meeting those clean air requirements. That’s why Mayor Riordan is concerned about finding the best--the least onerous and most effective--way of doing so. He has asked the AQMD to delay for 30 days its vote, now scheduled for Friday, on whether to approve its air plan for the region. Riordan wants the delay to ensure a comprehensive review of the plan by scientists, lawyers and representatives of all the agencies responsible for cleaning Los Angeles’ air. He wants to be assured that the scientific assumptions on which air rules in the plan will be based are sound, to discuss differences in approach and outcome, to fully explore the fiscal and legal impacts of these plans and, to the greatest extent possible, to find ways to mitigate those impacts.

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Was the mayor slow off the mark in recognizing his obligation to work with federal, state and local agencies on this critical issue? Oh, probably. Should the district nonetheless give him a bit more time to agree on the best way to proceed? Absolutely. Too much is at stake not to do so.


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