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Re: RC: Re: Re: Re: And so it goes....

At 09:03 PM 3/16/00 -0800, Duncan Fletcher wrote:
>Look elsewhere for Los Angeles' smog.

I used to teach air pollution control at the college level, and my
dissertation was on predicting emissions from vehicles. Here's the way it
has gone - LA was among the first of the US cities to really have a problem
with air pollution, though there are documented instances of air pollution
killing up to hundreds of people (mainly in the UK, though some instances
in the US) over the last several hundred years - I think the first recorded
instance was in the 1300's.

In the 1950's, we started recognizing that air pollution was a real
problem, and passed laws where we tried to get the states to enforce air
quality standards.  This became a problem for two reasons - the states
weren't very active against companies who might account for a lot of
industry, and Maine couldn't very well act against Massachusetts or NY for
the pollution that rolled across the borders.  By the early 60's we were
beginning to recognize that it was a national problem, which led to various
national air quality standards, with penalties for the states if they
didn't meet the standards.  During the Nixon administration, a veto-proof
majority of Congress brought the EPA into existance, and interestingly one
of our more conservative presidents (Bush) is to be thanked for reinforcing
and strengthing the Clear Air Act. 

The state government has very little to do with air quality, so Nixon,
Reagan, Boxer, etc. can't take much credit or blame for air quality in
California during their state-wide positions - though Nixon definately gets
some credit, and Reagan quite a bit of discredit for their actions
regarding the environment while president - Reagan's assertion that trees
pollute was one of the more ridiculous statements a president has ever
made, and demonstrated his depth of understanding in this area.

Basically, what accounts for LA's air becoming cleaner is better technology
on the part of automobile manufacturers - a 1990-era car is about 1000
times cleaner than a 1960's era car - and typically produces more power per
cubic inch than the 60's vintage cars did - a clean burn is an efficient
burn.  Restrictions on point source pollution (factories, plants, etc) have
also been important.  A current vehicle is even cleaner - most cars produce
25% of their total emissions during 2.5% of the driving, and there are ways
to reduce that significantly by changing the levels at which the higher
emissions are generated - new testing procedures that my research
contributed to will reduce emissions on a national basis by several million
tons per year.

There's also geography to take into account - LA has a uniquely bad
physical situation that really encourages air pollution, and San Francisco
has better prevailing winds - which is one reason why San Francisco was the
first major US city to meet air quality standards 3 years in a row, and be
taken off the EPA list.

Air pollution control has been one of the better arguments for national
standards and enforcement, which is a typically liberal approach - but
conservative approaches were tried first, and just didn't work since air
ignores state and national borders.  I've never quite figured out why a
'conservative' would want to ignore air quality, because what you do when
you allow someone to pollute is someone else has to bear the impact of
their failure to properly clean up their own waste - for example, all types
of crops are less valuable because of damage from air pollution, and the
lakes that have died from acid rain previously generated income from
tourism and fishing. A friend of Jennifer's died from a severe asthma
attack a couple of years ago during a particularly bad bout of high ozone
levels in Atlanta - I don't know how to put a cost on that.  Personally, I
think it is fairly conservative notion to ask people to clean up their own
messes and be accountable for the impact of their own actions.  But then
again, it seems to me that 'liberal' and 'conservative' have really lost
their meaning, and are only used as insults to declare someone to be of a
group you don't like.  Maybe if we focussed less on Democrat vs. Republican
or Liberal vs. Conservative, and more on just what's the right thing to do
to solve our various problems, we'd all be better off - but now I'm dreaming.

David LeBlanc

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