Marlo Lewis Debates Smog Standards on CNN

Next@CNN with Host Heidi Collins

HEIDI COLLINS, HOST: Hello, I’m Heidi Collins…As the weather warms up around the nation, it’s not just sunscreen you need to worry about. It could also be smog. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a set of guidelines to help states meet tough new smog standards. The EPA wants to give heavy smog zones some time and flexibility to meet those standards, but environmental groups say flexibility seldom brings results. Joining us from Washington is Frank O’Donnell from the Clean Air Trust and Marlo Lewis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Welcome, gentlemen. Appreciate you being here with us today. I want to give you both a track at sort of a basic question, I would imagine, before we begin. And that would be, how bad is the smog? Marlo, why don’t you start? MARLO LEWIS, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, the smog has been declining dramatically over the last two decades. Nationwide, on average, it’s about 24 percent below where it was in 1980.


And regulations have already been adopted, such as the Tier Two rule for gasoline, which will apply to all cars by 2004; the heavy truck rule; and now an off-road diesel rule, which will remove about 90 percent of all smog-forming emissions by the year 2020.


So I think what we’re in store for is clean air and the irreversible march of progress toward cleaner air. COLLINS: Frank, is smog decreasing? FRANK O’DONNELL, CLEAN AIR TRUST: Smog has been decreasing if you look at it on the long-term. The Clean Air Act is working very well despite industrial growth, a huge increase in population, and lots more driving. Air pollution is down, if you look at it compared to 1970, at least in most of the country.

However, in the last couple of years, we’ve seen kind of a flattening out of the trend. And in many parts of the country, where the population growth has been really surging, like in the Southeast and parts of the West, pollution has actually increased in recent years. And even though we are hoping we will get some further progress, as Mr. Lewis talked about, from some of the other requirements, we are very concerned because more than 130 million people, according to the American Lung Association, still live in areas with dirty air. We think we need to keep enforcing the Clean Air Act in order to continue the progress. We don’t think that progress itself is inevitable. And we’re very concerned that the Bush administration…COLLINS: All right.O’DONNELL: … has proposed a series of plans that will actually halt that progress, take the environmental cop off the beat and actually give industry so much flexibility that we will have dirty air. COLLINS: OK. I’ve got to make sure I keep the time equal here, sir. So thank you so much. Let me move on to the next question now. Talking about the state and federal guidelines, as far as those issues are concerned, why are some states required to do more to clean up their air than other states? Marlo? LEWIS: Well, if you’re talking about the guidelines here, what the EPA has proposed is that not states, but counties or air quality districts that are already in compliance with the older, so-called one-hour ozone standard should have some degree of flexibility in attaining the eight-hour standard. Now, I just want to correct something, at least, that I think that my colleague here was saying. The progress toward clean air is irreversible. It’s going to happen. There are other rules that I didn’t even mention, like the so-called NOx (nitrous oxides) sick call (ph), which will reduce NOx emissions—which are part of the precursors of smog—by 60 percent along the eastern seaboard states in the next few years. And the American Lung Association report that he referred to, I think, does a disservice to the American public. It’s scare-mongering. It’s not accurate at all. Let me just give you one example in a state.The American Lung Association report gave San Diego County an “F” for air quality. Why? Because one monitoring station in San Diego, in Alpine City, had more than two exceedances (ph) of the new eight-hour ozone standard, but less than 0.5 percent of the population of San Diego live in Alpine City. About 97.5 percent of the total population of San Diego County breathes air that is in compliance with both the one-hour standard and the eight-hour standard. In my book that’s an “A-plus,” not an “F”. COLLINS: OK. Gentlemen, I want to make sure we stay on point here. I did want to give you both a crack at how bad this situation is before we begin, but I think that we should be talking about the EPA guidelines. Along those lines…is there a problem letting individual states then determine how much they are going to try to reduce these smog levels? Frank? O’DONNELL: Sure. Heidi, there’s a very big problem. What the EPA is proposing is to give certain states more flexibility than other states. And when we hear flexibility, history has shown us that lots of flexibility means dirty air for breathers. And in this case, EPA is really going against the wishes of Congress. In 1990, Congress wrote very specific requirements into the Clean Air Act for states, because up until that point, states were drawing up all these little cleanup plans that were just terrific on paper. But when it came to reality, they didn’t clean up the air. So Congress said you states will have to do very specific things. What EPA is proposing to do for some areas, not for others, but for areas with about 50 million people, are saying you can go back to having that kind of flexibility like we had before 1990. We know that method is tried and failed. And I should point out that many of the areas that are getting this added flexibility, if you will, actually have dirtier air than New York City. EPA’s own statistics show that areas like Detroit, much of Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, all have higher chronic levels of smog than does Queens, New York. Yet all of these areas will get looser requirements under the Bush proposal. COLLINS: OK. Marlo, I’m going to let you respond to that. And unfortunately, we will be out of time after your response. LEWIS: Yes, well, these areas that Frank is talking about will have to come into compliance with the eight-hour standard. The question here is whether they will have flexibility in how they do it, rather than whether EPA will prescribe the manner for them. And I think Frank is really reviving old thinking here. I think most people who deal with these matters believe that the centrally planned prescriptive method were adequate to deal with the air pollution problems of the ’70s. But now, as we reach for the higher and higher fruit on the tree, we have to be more flexible and take into account factors of cost, because the more you clean the air, the more expensive it becomes to clean that last little component of pollution out of the air. COLLINS: And the question will always be, who will pay for it. All right. I appreciate your time to both of you today, sorry that we ran out of time. Frank O’Donnell from the Clean Air Trust and Marlo Lewis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Thank you again, gentlemen, very much. O’DONNELL: Thank you, Heidi. Appreciate it.LEWIS: Thank you.