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BREATHLESS OVER AIR STANDARDS

How clean is clean?

Nobody wants to breathe dirty air, and few would argue against stringent clean-air requirements. But how far should the Environmental Protection Agency push the limits as it considers new standards?That depends on whom you ask.

On the one hand is the National Environmental Working Group, which claimed recently that adoption of the proposed stricter regulations would save 29 lives along the Wasatch Front. And the organization recommends further tightening beyond what is being consid-ered to save even more lives.

On the other hand is The Air Quality Standards Coalition, which suggests the above figures are based on faulty scientific evidence, that the new limits are extreme and that the EPA has failed to give credit for tremendous improvements in air quality that have reduced health risks significantly.

Further, the group points to a severe economic impact if the new standards become law.

While the least-expensive solution would be to have everyone collectively hold their breath, that's not very practical. Leaving a lot more cars in the garage and climbing aboard mass-transit would be a significant step in the right direction.

With that, the fate of our air rests in the hands and laboratories of EPA officials and scientists. They need to be certain of the validity of their data before imposing tighter controls.

They also must weigh the impact of any changes realistically not only on residents' physical but also their financial well-being. Regulation should not occur in a vacuum.

The debate about adverse health impacts of microscopic fine particulates is not an open and shut case. Scientific soundness and some type of cost-benefit considerations need to be factored into the equation.

It's easy to clamor for cleaner air with constant scientific advances that allow for more-refined testing. There will always be another trace element for which to test as science marches on, but testing and subsequent regulations need to be implemented prudently and with a degree of balance and reason. The EPA should seriously consider whether it has passed the point of diminishing returns before imposing stricter standards.