Panel of Experts Finds That Anti-Pollution Laws Are Outdated
January 30, 2004
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Despite three decades of progress, existing air-quality
laws are inadequate to prevent pollution from threatening
the environment and human health, the nation's top
scientific advisory group concluded yesterday.
The panel, the National Research Council of the National
Academies, said it was particularly concerned about ozone,
an ingredient of smog that has proved difficult to curtail,
and fine soot, which has been shown to be especially
State and local authorities in many polluted regions are
increasingly finding that even if they control local
emissions, they can end up violating federal standards
because of additional pollution drifting from sources
outside their jurisdiction.
And even though individual smokestacks and tailpipes are
generally getting cleaner as a result of clean-air laws,
their numbers are growing rapidly because of economic and
"Even if you say, `Let's not get any better than today,'
you're still going to have to do a lot more because the
economy is going to grow and we'll have more emissions,"
said Dr. William L. Chameides, the chairman of the
25-member panel of experts in environmental science, law,
engineering and public policy.
In some cases existing rules can be improved, the report
went on, but Congress will also have to pass new
legislation, including revisions to the 1970 Clean Air Act.
It noted that the Environmental Protection Agency has only
limited authority under the act to deal with pollution in
one state that blows into another, putting the downwind
region in violation of federal laws.
Bush administration officials and lawmakers from both
parties said it was a helpful technical guide, but some
added that political fights were still likely to impede
adoption of its recommendations.
The report avoided direct endorsements or criticisms of
policies of the Bush administration or its critics, instead
promoting general approaches that the experts said were
necessary to make environmental progress in the long run.
For example, the panel strongly supported expanding "cap
and trade" strategies for cutting pollution, in which a
national or regional limit is set and companies that do
better than the standard can sell credits to those that
Also, to ensure that the benefits of environmental laws
continue to outweigh the costs, the panel said, wherever
possible a single set of rules should control various
emissions from particular sources, like power plants. In
the past, most pollutants have been controlled in
These recommendations essentially constituted an
endorsement of the mechanism at the heart of a variety of
proposed laws for power plant cleanups. These include
President Bush's plan to limit three kinds of emissions and
those of several bipartisan groups of lawmakers seeking
quicker cuts and limits on a fourth emission, carbon
dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the main heat-trapping
greenhouse gas linked by most scientists to global warming.
On the question of climate change, the panel came closest
to choosing sides. "Multi-pollutant approaches that include
reducing emissions contributing to climate warming as well
as air pollution may prove to be desirable," it said.
The report also recommended that global warming be
considered both when examining restrictions on various
pollutants and assessing how bad various pollution problems
may be in coming years.