EPA cracks down on 14 cities to meet air quality standards

The Environmental Protection Agency singled out 14 urban areas for restrictions on new construction in its first concrete steps to enforce a deadline for meeting federal air quality standards. The Dec. 31 deadline has been postponed twice before and a Senate subcommittee on Monday began drafting a bill to delay it again, for five years for most cities. The EPA, however, says it has no choice but to act now. Another group of cities is expected to be cited by the organization later in the summer.

Monday's action covered only areas where air pollution control plans don't show compliance by the deadline. In some cases the plans had lain dormant for four years without action.

EPA officials say that if the latest action does not produce progress toward compliance, the areas could eventually face loss of highway funds.

Cleveland is among the cities threatened with such a loss, and Patricia Walling of the Ohio EPA complained that such punitive measures have a ``double negative impact.'' ``You lose money and can't do as much to combat pollution,'' while at the same time the incentive to make the corrections drops, she said.

David Kee, director of the federal EPA's air and radiation branch in Chicago, responded that funding withdrawals are ``kind of a nuclear deterrent you hate to wheel out, but it's the only deterrent we really have.''

The punishment is often called a ``ban'' on construction of major new sources of carbon monoxide or the chemicals that form ozone, a significant part of smog.

Separately, a federal appeals court here yesterday overturned an EPA regulation that allowed the agency to ban new factory construction if the factory had no permits to discharge pollution. The EPA's job is limited to regulating the discharge of pollutants and does not apply to banning construction without permits, the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

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