June 25, 1997
President Clinton has come out in favor of the EPA's tougher air quality standards, despite criticism that compliance with the new rules will be too costly. After this background report, Margaret Warner leads a discussion.
CAROL BROWNER, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency: EPA is doing precisely what the law, the Clean Air Act, tells us to do, and that is protect the health of the American people above all else.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
June 25, 1997:
Margaret Warner leads a discussion of the tougher clean air standards.
June 25, 1997:
Read our Online Forum: U.S.Representatives Julia Carson (D-IN) and Jim Gibbons (R-NV) debated the effectiveness of the EPA.
November 27, 1996:
The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to reduce smog levels by a third.
December 21, 1995:
Spencer Michels reports on the changing role of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of the environment.
Environmental Protection Agency
Air Quality Resources on the Internet
Clean Air Act Information Network
KWAME HOLMAN: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner proposed tightening air quality standards last November, and ever since, she has pursued a high profile defense of tougher clean air regulation. Arrayed against her has been a broad group of opponents who say meeting the new standards would harm the economy and force major lifestyle changes on millions of people. The new regulations would require cutting currently acceptable levels of smog or ozone. Ozone is the chemical soup of gases emitted by heavy industry, utilities, and autos that cooks in the sun on hot days. Also targeted by the standards is soot, tiny airborne particles scientists call particulate matter. Under the new standard very minuscule particles would be regulated--pieces of soot as small as 1/28th the width of a human hair. Public opinion polls show most Americans believe the air they breath is gradually getting cleaner. But Browner has taken on the difficult task of telling them that even though the air is cleaner, the particles and chemicals suspended in it put them at increased risk.
CAROL BROWNER: What has changed is the science. Science is always coming up with better ways to measure the quality of the air we breath, as well as how people are affected by polluted air and at what levels.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jonathan Samet at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health practices that science. He’s studying data from six U.S. cities that show deaths increase after high pollution days.
JONATHAN SAMET, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health: We knew in the past that high levels of air pollution could cause extra deaths, but this recent finding, something that has unfolded over the last eight to ten years, has been a bit surprising because we've seen these effects at levels that are much lower than before, and levels that were once considered to be safe.
KWAME HOLMAN: The EPA says meeting the proposed clean air standards could prevent 15,000 premature deaths a year, reduce asthma episodes by more than a quarter million a year, and save billions of dollars in medical expenses. As the mid-July deadline for the EPA to act on the proposed regulations approached, the White House reportedly was refereeing a fierce fight over the proposal. It pitted the EPA against other federal agencies concerned about jobs and economic development; the industrial Midwest against the Northeast, and business groups against health organizations.
C. BOYDEN GRAY, Citizens for a Sound Economy: This is the biggest industry coalition I've seen put together since back the late 70's.
KWAME HOLMAN: The opposition ranges from heavy manufacturing and farming to utilities to small businesses like dry cleaning. They’ve sponsored a nationwide campaign, spending millions to block the EPA proposal.
SPOKESPERSON: (Citizens for a Sound Economy) So the EPA is either going to have to pave over everywhere these particles come from, including Mother Nature, or, as usual, take it out on those of us who are barely part of the problem.
KWAME HOLMAN: Business and industry have been joined in opposing the clean air standards by state and local elected officials. Just yesterday, the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors made its opposition known. In fact, feelings about the regulations often break down along regional, rather than political party, lines. The regulations are opposed by leaders from the Midwest, where nitrogen oxide from the tall stacks of power plants helps create severe ozone episodes like the one in this animation. That pollution drifts eastward and contributes to already high ozone levels on the Eastern seaboard. Leaders there often support the tougher clean air standards.
FRANK SHAFROTH, National League of Cities: In the East Coast, for the most part it doesn't matter whether you're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, you like these rules because you want to try and have some sort of fence to stop that stuff in the Midwest from coming East.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today President Clinton ended weeks of suspense by announcing he basically will endorse the stricter air quality standards proposed by the EPA.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I know that those who have opposed the higher standards, I want to just tell you, read the implementation schedule; work with us. We will find a way to do this in a way that grows the American economy, but we have to keep having a clean environment if we want healthy children.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the President may modify the EPA plan, reportedly to give states more flexibility to meet the new clean air deadline.