Black Mayors Oppose Tightening Smog Standards

Published November 1, 2007

In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) expressed their opposition to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan to tighten air quality standards.

NAM and NCBM support the existing clean air quality standard of .08 parts per million for particulate matter emitted by cars, trucks, buses, and industrial power plants. EPA is proposing a stricter range of 0.07 to 0.075 ppm.

John Engler, former governor of Michigan and president of NAM since 2004, told the Senate committee in July, “the fact that the EPA’s own analysis shows that air quality continues to improve demonstrates that the current standard is working. Emissions from the key pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, including ozone, have dropped by more than 54 percent during the past 30 years.”

Greens Criticize Blacks

A local elected official, George L. Grace, mayor of St. Gabriel, Louisiana and president of the National Conference of Black Mayors, said stricter controls would hurt communities like his. “The emission control strategies required in a stricter standard will significantly impact the economies of local communities, including jobs and future growth. Such impacts manifest themselves in the form of increased costs to industry, permitting delays, restrictions on industrial expansion within an area, impacts on transportation planning, increased costs to consumers and for commercial and consumer products,” said Grace.

Environmental activist groups immediately went on the offensive against the NCBM. Robert D. Bullard of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark-Atlanta University urged residents who live in cities with black mayors to write their mayors to have them contact EPA to demand more restrictive regulations for air quality, down to .06 ppm instead of the EPA-suggested .07 ppm.

Bullard also insisted residents of cities with black mayors should write letters to the NCBM demanding Grace retract his Atlanta statement.

Beverly Wright, director of the Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, said the views of the NCBM are “abominable,” claiming, “The National [Conference] of Black Mayors evidently is not speaking for the people they represent.”

Useful Programs Threatened

Several communities, including some with black mayors, have achieved compliance with the 1997 standard but would fall out of compliance if the standard is reduced.

The effect of the more stringent standards, black mayors say, will be to redirect valuable resources from programs that improve the well-being of urban black citizens to programs that produce few if any real-world health benefits.

Since the 1997 standard imposed under the Clean Air Act, there have been several new rulemakings that are just beginning to take effect, with the full benefits to be realized by 2020. Some states have made substantial investments over the past 10 years to improve air quality and will continue to do so, but the additional cost to attain a lower standard before evaluating the impact of the new regulations puts their local economies at risk in terms of jobs, revenue, and economic growth.

Ralph W. Conner ([email protected]) is local legislation manager of The Heartland Institute, former village president of Maywood, Illinois, and a member of the National Conference of Black Mayors.