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After Failing Air Quality Report, Improvements Suggested

Environmental advocates are pushing for more zero-emissions vehicles and changes to the EPA's Regional Haze Program in the wake of a new report that gives California national parks like Joshua Tree failing grades for air quality. Credit: Tommy Hough.
Environmental advocates are pushing for more zero-emissions vehicles and changes to the EPA's Regional Haze Program in the wake of a new report that gives California national parks like Joshua Tree failing grades for air quality. Credit: Tommy Hough.
August 4, 2015

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. – As smoke from multiple wildfires chokes the air across California this summer, air quality has again become a hot topic in the Golden State.

But despite the current bout of wildfires, the biggest source of smog in California remains the state's 33.5 million vehicles. California is moving to promote air quality, especially in the wake of a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) that gives Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon an "F" for air quality.

Ulla Reeves, clean air campaign manager with the NPCA, says all four iconic National Parks have unhealthy levels of ozone.

"Between oil and gas plants and vehicles, all of this pollution piles up together and contributes to degraded air quality," she says. "Vehicles, in particular, are a huge problem in California."

Governor Jerry Brown set a goal last year of one million zero-emissions cars on the road by 2023, and signed a bill to make electric cars more affordable. Three years ago, the state mandated that 15 percent of cars sold in California be all electric, hybrid or hydrogen vehicles, beginning in 2018.

Reeves says the Regional Haze Rule of the Clean Air Act needs to be tightened to force additional action on the issue around the country.

"That rule, unfortunately, has some loopholes and weaknesses that are allowing states and polluters to essentially game the system and often avoid cleaning up," she says. "We're calling on the Obama administration to strengthen the regional haze rule."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has criticized the regional haze rule as too stringent, and has made the claim the rule has stood in the way of construction of hundreds of new power plants.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA