Washington Hundreds of communities far from congested highways and belching smokestacks could soon join big cities and industrial corridors in violation of stricter limits on lung-damaging smog proposed Thursday by the Obama administration.
Costs of compliance could be in the tens of billions of dollars, but the government said the rules would save other billions — as well as lives — in the long run.
More than 300 counties — mainly in southern California, the Northeast and Gulf Coast — already violate the current, looser requirements adopted two years ago by the Bush administration and will find it even harder to reduce smog-forming pollution enough to comply with the law.
The new limits being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency could more than double the number of counties in violation and reach places like California’s wine country in Napa Valley and rural Trego County, Kan., and its 3,000 residents. Douglas County, Kan., would not be affected.
For the first time, counties in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa might be forced to find ways to clamp down on smog-forming emissions from industry and automobiles, or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars.
The tighter standards, though costly to implement, will ultimately save billions in avoided emergency room visits, premature deaths, and missed work and school days, the EPA said.
“EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face,” said agency administrator Lisa Jackson. “Using the best science to strengthen these standards is long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.”
The proposal presents a range for the allowable concentration of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, from 60 parts per billion to 70 parts, as recommended by scientists during the Bush administration. That’s equivalent to a single tennis ball in an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of tennis balls.
EPA plans to select a specific figure within that range by August. Counties and states will then have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, depending on how severely they are out of compliance. They will have to submit plans for meeting the new limits by end of 2013 or early 2014.