Take that smog and shove it

Los Angeles is notorious for its smog problem, but it’s also notable for the success it’s had in improving air quality in recent years, despite an overall increase in the number of vehicles. Lately, though, the federal government seems determined to hamstring its efforts entirely.

In the last couple of years, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has passed rules requiring owners of fleet vehicles, such as buses, taxis and garbage trucks, to buy clean-fueled models when they replace or add vehicles. This has resulted in the replacement of hundreds of polluting diesel and gas vehicles with vehicles that run on methane or natural gas.

Two industry groups, the Western States Petroleum Association and the Engine Manufacturers Association, sued the AQMD in district court. The clean-air group prevailed there, however, and again in the Court of Appeals.

Now the case has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the U.S. Justice Department has filed a brief supporting the lawsuit. The AQMD, the feds argue, cannot establish its own emissions standards for new vehicles and must petition the federal EPA for permission to adopt such standards.

But the AQMD didn’t set emissions standards. Instead, it asked fleet owners to choose from among the cleanest engine technologies available and allowed exceptions if no alternatives could be located. The cost to the owners was not appreciably higher, and the benefits to breathing citizens were significant.

As the Associated Press reports, this is the third time in a month that the feds have weighed in on issues that affect Southern California’s air quality. Earlier, the EPA refused to support any emissions reduction measures proposed by the AQMD, and a week ago Wednesday the EPA unveiled revisions to the Clean Air Act that will allow power plants and factories to upgrade without adopting enhanced pollution control equipment.

Unfortunately, with the war in Iraq continuing to dominate the media, most Americans are not aware of these and other Bush administration assaults on the nation’s environmental protections.