Last week Washingtonians experienced the beginning of the 1999 smog season. Last year the federal health standard for smog was violated 5,200 times nationwide and 49 times in Washington.

This summer the Environmental Protection Agency is considering new standards for automobiles that would go far to make the air safe to breathe. The new standards would require new cars to emit 90 percent less pollution and would require some of the popular sport utility vehicles to meet the same pollution standards met by cars.

SUVs legally can emit three times more pollution than a car. Unfortunately, EPA's standards would not extend to the super SUVs such as the Chevy Suburban, which are so large that they're considered "heavy-duty trucks."

Closing the SUV pollution loophole makes sense. The American Lung Association just released a report showing that nearly nine out of 10 voters (88 percent) agree that car companies should be required to make these vehicles meet the same strict air-pollution standards as passenger cars. Seventy-six percent strongly agree with the idea.

The public deserves to breathe easier, and the automakers know how to build clean cars and trucks.

REBECCA STANFIELD

Staff Attorney

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Washington