The Standard Oil Co. of Ohio wants to build a $550 million terminal for Alaskan oil near Los Angeles. But the giant landing and storage facility would spew thousands of tons of pollution into the smog-choked city.
Faced with stern opposition from air pollution officials, Sohio offered a long list of "trade-offs." Among them, three local drycleaning shops - New Fashion Cleaners, Fancy Cleaners and Alert Cleaners - would be given brand-new pollution clean-up equipment, with the oil company footing the bill.
Across the country in Pennsylvania another incongrous is taking shape. The state, anxious to accomodate a new Volkswagen assembley plant, has offered to switch from an oil-base asphalt - which gives off hydrocarbons - to a latex-base one in paying country roads. The reason: to offset expected pollution from the auto plant's spray-painting operation.
Such are the innovative contortions that companies and development minded states are dreaming up across the country to meet a tough new federal regulation to reduce air pollution in cities and industrial areas.
But the "offset rules" or trade-off policy," which the Environmental Protection Agency adopted five months ago, has industry screaming for relief. It requires that pollution from new plants be offset by reductions in pollution from other sources - a policy that amounts to 'no growth," industry claims.
Congress, already embroiled in a battle over revising the Clean Air act, is confronted witha head-on collision between clean air and economic development. Arguments over offsets are delaying a Portsmouth, Va., oil refinery, a billion-dollar Texas chemical plant, the nation's first superport in the Gulf of Mexico and a recycling plant in Detroit.
The policy affects virtually every urban and industrial area in the country. Ninety per cent of the nation's monitored regions violate federal health standards, because of automobile traffic as well as factories. Southern California, the Texas and Louisiana coasts and Northeastern cities have three or four times as mch pollution as the law allows.
In his energy message last month, President Carter asked Congress to postpone action on the issue until the administration thoroughly analyzes it next year. But, under pressure from oil, chemical and steel industries, Senate and House committees have approved bills loosening the tradeoff policy.
The issue, which will be hotly, debated in both houses next week ,is coming to a head now because deadlines set by the 1970 Clean Air Act have arrived, but the nation's air is still dirty.So what to do when a new polluter wants to move into an area where the law requires cleaner air?
There's a crunc," admitted EPA administrator Douglas M. Costle. "You have a column of air and you can only put so much crap in it before it becomes unhealthy. We must make sure industry isn't retarding progress toward health standards."
The solution, Costle said, is "a stringent policy which allows new emission only if they will make air qualtiy worse." Thus, any new industry that would emit more than 100 tons of pollutants must be balanced by a greater reduction in existing pollution.
"If we're serious about health standards, we mush manage air and water like economically valuable resources," Costle said. "They're no longer free goods. We have to say who is allowed to put how much pollution in the air. This is a whole new concept."
As far as industry is concerned, the concept "stinks," said Jay ALdridge, head of Penn's Southwest, a nonprofit corporation set up to lure business to Pittsburgh. "It could have a disastrous effect on an economy."
EPA and state officials have been fighting for months over offset for the Volkswagen plant under construction 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. VW says its spray-painting process will be the cleanest in the country - a fact local officials don't dispute.
But the city of stell mills, where 14 people died in an air pollution episode 18 months ago, can't take any more dirty air - even from a plant with the newest control technology. The EPA wants the state to eliminate twice the amount of pollutants VW would bring in. Besides changing highway asphalt, possible offsets include cracking down on steel plant coke ovens, containing vapors at gasoline stations, controlling auto traffic.
U.S. Steel Corp., with headquarters in Pittsburgh, is watching the VW case closely. "The Commonwealth of Pennsylvanic can remove the hydrocarbons from its asphalt, but what happens to the next company?" says Philip Masciantonio, U.S. Steel's environmental director.
"If we want to build, there's nothing left to offset. Right now in Pittsburgh, all of the coke plants are on clean-up schedules. We are pushing technology to the brink to get compliance" with air pollution laws, he said.
The Sohio project, like VW's, is being held up be a dispute over offsets. The company is offering not only to purchase clean-up equipment ofr three dry-cleaning plants but also to pave Long Beach's dusty roads and clean up gas turbine engines at a nearby gasoline company.
But state official, who enforce EPA law, say Los Angeles' dirty air can't take the pollution form docking 20 oil-filled spertankers a month. Sohio claims the state is trying to extract unrasonable trade-offs.
Although California favors a tough offset policy, soem states that enforece EPA rules are irate. It could have =devastating effects on the entire country through restrictions on economic growth," said Axel Mattson, head of Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board.
"We categorically reject this complex, poorly conceived and misleading regulation which is of questionable legality, and which will interfere with the achievement of cleaner air," says John L. Blair, head of the Texas Air control Board.
Both Texas and Virginia have high smog levels that even EPA concedes may never be brought under the health standard because of climate, geography and auto congestion. The strict offset rule is holding up a $550 million refinery in Portsmouth, Va., which would be the cleanest, modern technology could produce and a billion-dollar Dupont chemical plant on the Texas coast.
Costle says communities like Portsmouth and Houston have plenty of pollution to "squeeze out of the air for offsets. It's a question of political will. Industry would love to do away with the Clean Air Act because it's a whole new way of doing business."
The EPA cites a "sucess story" the General Motors assembly plants in Oklahoma City where the local Chamber of Commerce persuaded four oil companies to cap their storage tanks, as a trade-off for 3,100 tons of GM's spray-painting pollutants a year.
But GM and other companies say the policy means older, dirtier plants can keep newer, cleaner competitors out of their area by refusing to grant offsets. It gives companies an incentive to resist cleaning up so they can hoard pollution trade-offs for future use, they say. Thus, it creates a system where polluting the air becomes a commodity companies can sell - or not sell - to each other.
"It's difficult ot find offsets unless you already have a facility in the area where you want to build," said GM official Edward Cote. "You're not in a position to tell anothre guy, 'Hey, cough up 1,000 tons of hydorcarbons to help me out.'"
The dispute over economic effects, however, ignores what former EPA offical John Quarles called "the environmental perspective" when he first announced the offset policy last November.
"The air in many urban centers often forms a blanket of haze so thick it blurs the sunshine," Quarles said. "Particulate matter, sulfur oxides, photochemical oxidants and other pollutants, many of them highly toxic, fill the air that people breathe.
"The cost of this pollution runs high, both financially and impersonal health. The heart, the lungs, the very lives of people are being slowly destroyed."
The dispute over economic effects gress is a "test of whether the nation can attain clean air," said David Hawkins, at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. "If Congress allows industrial growth without regard to air quality, then it is acknowledging we'll never have clean air in an economically healthy part of the country."