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Latino groups push Obama on ozone standards

June 8, 2011 |  4:23 pm

La smog On the heels of a scathing critique by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on Wednesday, President Obama faced pressure from a burgeoning environmental justice coalition demanding stronger action on ozone, a component of smog, in predominantly Latino communities.

Fourteen groups sent a letter to Obama expressing dismay at missed opportunities and delays in bringing permissible ozone levels down to between 60 and 70 parts per billion:

The EPA estimates that the strongest standard of 60 parts per billion would avoid as many as 12,000 deaths and 58,000 asthma attacks per year. Implementing a weaker standard would mean more lives lost and more asthma attacks –- costs that Latinos would disproportionately bear.

The Latino community has faced many challenges over the past few years. We’ve seen missed opportunities, delays and more. With lives at stake, we hope that we won’t see yet another burden if polluting industries succeed in blocking EPA’s efforts to protect us from smog.

This is a chance to fix a costly mistake by the Bush administration, which in 2008 disregarded science and set smog standards too high to adequately protect public health. This issue is too important to have mistakes like this repeated.

EPA announced proposed ozone standards of 60-70 ppb in January 2010, but delayed implementing them and in December, said it would submit the issue to a scientific advisory panel. That panel since has endorsed the lower limits. The agency is slated to establish new standards in July.

The George W. Bush administration had lowered the limit from 85 to 75 ppb. No urban area of California meets even the 1997 federal standard of 80 ppb. If states fail to meet federal standards, the government can withhold highway funding.

The Latino groups that signed the letter, from California, Texas and other states, are part of a growing environmental movement centered around some of the nation's most polluted urban areas. Signatories included the Comite del Valle from Brawley, in California's Central Valley, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

Groups such as East Yard Communities in Los Angeles have been pushing for help with unhealthful air in their working-class neighborhoods, surrounded by freeways and large rail yards.

In San Bernardino, air pollution authorities on Wednesday announced a major study of communities around large rail facilities that serve as a main inland hub of goods shipped across the U.S. The study will examine rates of cancer and asthma in those low-income communities.

The study comes two years after the California Air Resources Board determined that diesel emissions from locomotives, big rigs and other equipment at the facility posed a significant health risk to thousands of residents living near the site, and that the facility posed the greatest cancer risk of any rail yard in California.

Related:

EPA proposes nation's strictest smog limits ever

San Bernardino rail yard communities targeted for health study

EPA's 'environmental justice' tour comes to California

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: The Los Angeles skyline on a smoggy day in 2009. Credit: Nick Ut/Associated Press

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