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Smokestacks and Smokescreens

Smokestacks and Smokescreens

Big Polluters, Big Profits, and the Fight for Cleaner Air
Thursday, May 1, 1997

View and Download the report here: Smokestacks and Smoke Screens

Tens of thousands of people die prematurely each year from microscopic toxic particles in the air we breathe. To reduce particle pollution to safe levels, EPA has proposed updating the decade-old health standard for so-called “particulate matter”. According to the EPA, updated health standards, in combination with other ongoing pollution control initiatives, will save 35,000 lives each year (EPA 1997).

Even before EPA formally proposed these new health standards, major power, oil, chemical, paper and mining companies launched a multi-million dollar public relations campaign to thwart any change in air pollution standards. Not unwisely, these corporations reasoned that it was more cost effective to buy public opinion and influence the Congress with slick PR, than to buy the pollution control equipment required by the rule.

Industry has advanced two specious arguments in this high powered PR blitz. First, that cleaner air means restrictions on personal activities like barbecue grilling and lawn mowing. And second, that cleaner air is not affordable. EWG analysis of air emissions data from EPA and the states reveals that exactly the opposite is true.

Stationary sources (factories and power plants, as opposed to cars and trucks) account for 96 percent of SO2 emissions, 56 percent of particle pollution, and 48 percent of NOX emissions, the three major forms of particulate pollution. Rational strategies to control particulate pollution will focus on these sources first.

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