EPA proposes stronger smog standards

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Kai Ryssdal: All right, now everybody do this for me: take a deep breath everybody. Hold it. And exhale. I did that because today Environmental Protection Agency proposed tough new limits for the most persistent air pollutant out there. Smog. It's going to cost companies and eventually consumers a pretty penny to clean up emissions to meet the new standards. And not just in the big urban corridors, either. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: Search for an iconic picture of smog and chances are you'll find a shot of the Los Angeles skyline. And for good reason. Smog forms when tailpipe and industrial emissions mix with sunlight. Ingredients L.A. has in spades.

Frank O'Donnell with Clean Air Watch says the good news is that smog is much better today than it was 40 years ago.

FRANK O'DONNELL: The bad news is that we know a lot more now than we used to about the damage that smog can do. And we know now that lower levels of smog can cause much greater damage than we previously thought.

Which means it's not just a threat to the health of urban residents. But also people living in the Dakotas, in Iowa, in Nevada. The list goes on. Under the Bush administration EPA scientists found that even these rural residents are at risk of higher heart and respiratory illnesses associated with smog. And according to the EPA, the tens of billions of dollars to treat those illnesses is roughly equal to the cost of meeting the new standards. But the companies that would be forced to bear those costs -- from lawnmower makers, to agribusiness, and oil refineries -- aren't exactly lining up.

Here's Howard Feldman with the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's chief lobby.

HOWARD FELDMAN: Obviously as a society we've gone after the cheapest and most efficient emissions reductions first. So as you're talking about needing more emissions reductions that last pound costs more and more to take out of the air.

Meaning bigger hits to profits as industries are forced to make expensive upgrades. The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposal before it becomes final.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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