The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proposed construction bans in 14 metropolitan areas that have failed to craft adequate plans to achieve federal air quality standards for ozone and carbon monoxide by the year-end deadline set by Congress.
Construction of new, large plants that emit the pollutants -- including electric utilities, industrial boilers and petroleum refineries -- would not be permitted in five urban centers of California, including Los Angeles; Chicago, Cleveland and three other midwestern cities; Atlanta; Denver; Dallas-Ft. Worth and Reno, Nev.
The ban proposed by EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas is subject to public review before becoming effective. If implemented, it would stay in effect until local governments receive EPA approval for plans limiting the dangerous gases.
Thomas said the Clean Air Act that set the deadline and mandates automatic penalties for violators "leaves no discretion. I must propose sanctions."
Congress passed the act in 1970, requiring that standards for six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and ozone, be met by 1975. The deadline for those two stubborn pollutants was later extended to Dec. 31, 1987, with the states directed to submit implementation plans for their municipal areas by 1979.
Carbon monoxide pollution, emitted chiefly from automotive exhausts, impairs the flow of oxygen in the blood and aggravates heart conditions. While ozone high in the atmosphere helps shield the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation, ozone at low altitudes, formed by the mixture of sunlight and volatile organic compounds released from automotive and industrial sources, causes pulmonary and respiratory problems.
In addition to the 14 metropolitan areas cited yesterday, another 35, including the Washington area, are expected to fall short of the clean-air standards by Dec. 31. But, armed with EPA-approved plans, they have escaped sanctions at least for the time being.
The EPA is auditing those plans to determine whether the cities honored their commitments. Those that faithfully implemented their plans but fail to meet standards by Dec. 31 will be required to draft new blueprints or face penalties.
Those jurisdictions found to have reneged face automatic penalties, ranging from building bans to the cutoff of federal highway, clean air and sewage treatment funds.
Municipalities complain that the problem is too complex and the burden too heavy to meet the Dec. 31 timetable, and Congress is considering legislation that would add up to 10 years of compliance time.
William Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, said the EPA's proposed sanctions are "not appropriate." Some of the municipalities, including Los Angeles, knew the Dec. 31 deadline was impossible to meet and "chose not to lie or exaggerate," he said.