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A Need for Cap-and-Trade

by Indy, published

Let's hear it for Pittsburgh, which Tuesday made dirty air not just California's problem.

The Pennsylvania city topped the American Lung Association's annual list for the worst short-term air pollution from particles and was barely second to Los Angeles for year-round levels.

It's the first time in 10 years that a city outside California has headed any list in the yearly State of the Air report, the lung association says.

Otherwise, the news was not good for California cities that historically have had no problem making the worst of the worse lists.

  • Five of top 10 cities most polluted by smog - Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno and Sacramento.
  • Five of the top 10 for year-round soot - Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno and Hanford.
  • Four of the top 10 for short-term soot - Los Angeles, Fresno, Bakersfield and Sacramento.
  • A number other cities - San Diego, Modesto, Merced, San Francisco - land in the top 24 on one or more of the lists.
  • Thirty-six California counties receive failing grades for smog; 20 flunk when it comes to soot.

Seeing a rush to Salinas and Redding? That could be because they're rated among the 10 least-polluted cities.

The end result nationally, according to the lung association, is that one in six Americans live in areas with unhealthy smog levels.

If that doesn't give President Obama's cap-and-trade proposal an extra push, nothing will.

And cap-and-trade -- a program that forces companies to pay for spewing excess pollution into the air - might be the only hope. Cleaning dirty power plants is at the top of the lung association's to-do list for curbing pollution, and cap-and-trade would strike at the heart of that problem.

The cap-and-trade program, which focuses on big industrial polluters, could actually help smog-choked Eastern cities more than it will aid California. Electric utilities, oil companies, large industrial plants and other such entities make up 85 percent of the nation's emissions, GreenTech Media reports.

In an attempt to win support from coal-fired industries, though, draft legislation also proposes national auto emission standards that are more closely align to the restrictions California has tried to implement for almost a decade.

The state needs those standards. A big chunk of California's problem is due to "mobile sources" - vehicles.

Hearings already have begun on cap-and-trade - the House Energy Committee chaired by Californian Henry Waxman plans a markup May 11. Republicans already are girding for a fight, though Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to revert to the Democratic Party leaves the GOP largely toothless in that chamber.

"This is the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I have ever experienced," Illinois Rep. John Shimkus said at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week. The New York Times reported that Shimkus said he feared cap-and-trade proposal more than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and 9-11.

Rhetoric like that practically makes party leaders look like moderates.

"When you look at the final touches that are being put on this cap-and-trade policy -- or, as I like to call it, cap-and-tax -- this is going to raise costs for every consumer in America and risk millions of American jobs," House Minority Leader John Boehner told The Wall Street Journal recently.

Boehner seems to be overlooking the fact that that the proposal includes help businesses and consumers, through aid to consumers hit by higher energy costs and assistance affected industries, according to the Center for American Progress.

He also seems to be overlooking the fact that the status quo risks the lives and health of the 186.1 million living in areas where the air is rated F. Children, the elderly, people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease. In other words, virtually all of us at some point in our lives.

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