- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2000

The enemy of the good is the perfect, as the saying goes especially when it comes to air-quality standards. "Environmentalists" (a term that connotes "science" but which has more to do with advocacy) have been demanding that the Washington metropolitan area's rating of compliance with federal air-quality standards for ground-level ozone be downgraded even though there were only two days this year when the area's air quality slipped below levels deemed healthful.

Earthjustice Legal Defense Club and the Sierra Club threatened to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if the agency failed to reclassify the metro area a "severe non-attainment area," based on those two days during which ozone standards were exceeded. "Even healthy children and adults can suffer lung damage from breathing the dirty air in this region," Sierra Club spokesman Mark Wenzler intoned.

Sounds awfully apocalyptic until you go outside and actually breathe the air, which is cleaner in this area than it has been in decades, according to both EPA's own reckoning as well as authoritative studies, such as the American Automobile Association-commissioned work, "Clearing the air." In fact, those two days this year when the (already lowered) federal ground-level ozone standards were exceeded were not even full days. The way federal air-quality rules work, if air quality at a given monitoring location exceeds the standard for even one hour, the entire day is tossed into the "non-attainment" bin. So what we're talking about here is a grand total of perhaps a couple of hours out of the course of one entire year during which the region's air quality level slipped past the standard deemed "healthful" by EPA.

And yet, the self-styled "environmentalists" are insisting the region be reclassified as if it were choked by pollution and accordingly become subject to draconian regulatory intervention, which would become mandatory if the reclassification took place. Restrictions on the use of motor vehicles (mandatory carpooling, "on-off" days), more elaborate and costly anti-pollution technology on everything and everyone from dry cleaners to backyard barbecue grilling (none of which might appreciably improve air quality, by the way) would be required by law. And since it has been demonstrated that higher costs can be as unhealthful to people as pollution even more so when the "pollution" is marginal or almost nonexistent it seems as though the "environmentalists" are demanding that their pie-in-the-sky standards for absolutely pristine air be pursued irrespective of the actual threat to human health and regardless of the real-world costs to attain them.

Luckily, EPA is being more levelheaded at least this time. "We think air quality is moving in the right direction in D.C., and it's unlikely that we'll conclude on the basis [of the two non-attainment days] that change is appropriate," said EPA Regional Administrator Bradley M. Graham. That's good news, based on sound science and the facts for a change.

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