Twenty years ago, as a member of the California Assembly representing one of the state's smoggiest regions, I authored legislation creating the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a major environmental priority at a time when Southern California's war on air pollution needed new direction and support.
Now, the region's residents and businesses are bracing for another sea change in the effort to reduce pollution in the Los Angeles Basin, which continues to have the nation's worst air.
Under a court order to bring air quality into compliance with federal guidelines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a wide-ranging strategy to eliminate 90% of hydrocarbons and 70% of nitrogen oxides, the key elements of ozone in the South Coast Air Basin.
Laudable goals? Of course. Clearly, Southern California's air quality is unacceptable. But during recent hearings by EPA and the California Air Resources Board, it became clear that as we try to wring every last emission from stationary sources, as well as planes, locomotives, automobiles and ships, we need to be careful that we don't create more problems than we solve.
For example, we may successfully control a significant amount of stationary-source pollution, but efforts to make further reductions might become extremely expensive in terms of jobs lost as well as dollars spent.
Similarly, overly stringent regulations on locomotive emissions would drive up the cost of using rail, resulting in traffic shifting from rails to highway transportation.
A single double-stack train with a two-person crew can move as many containers as 280 trucks, while using less fuel. Increased reliance on highway transportation, therefore, would do more environmental harm than good. It would stifle the fastest-growing trend in transportation--intermodalism--in which the trucking and rail industries have forged a mutually beneficial alliance to carry millions of containers of freight by rail, bypassing gridlocked and deteriorating highways while conserving fuel and reducing emissions.
Excessive regulations also might drive up the cost of moving a container through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, providing a significant incentive for shippers to route their cargo through ports in the Pacific Northwest. The ensuing loss of business to California would cause particular hardship as California's economy struggles to rebound from a four-year recession, which has cost our state more than half a million jobs.
Accordingly, EPA's locomotive emissions regulations must take into account the unique aspects of the railroad industry. It is important that both the regulatory structure and the actual emissions limits encourage transportation by rail. EPA can achieve substantial locomotive emissions reductions without impairing the ability of the railroads to operate and provide the economic and environmental benefits the industry has to offer.
My goals have not changed in the past two decades: We must clean the air and make significant environmental improvement. At the same time, however, we need a common-sense approach to regulations that include risk and benefit-cost analyses before they are promulgated--in other words, regulators must adopt practical regulations with attainable goals. The worst thing we could do is adopt overly harsh emissions rules that marginally improve air quality but carry an excessive price tag that drives jobs out of California.
JERRY LEWIS (R-Redlands)
(Rep. Lewis is chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on VA/HUD, which includes supervision of the EPA.)