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Spring 1999

Heal the World
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In its inaugural edition, the IoE analyzes progress -- and regress -- in the region's response to four particular issues: air pollution, wastewater treatment, water usage and wetlands conservation. The marks are mixed, indicating that while the IoE is eager to work with environmental policy-makers, it is also not about to pull punches in its assessments.

Take air quality, for example. Southern California gets an "A" for its progress to date in meeting federal emission standards for nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead and for the dramatic strides it has taken to reduce peaked ozone levels over the past 40 years (an achievement all the more remarkable given the growth in population and automobile use during the same period). But the region's lack of new policies to match the aggressive strategies laid out in earlier times results in a "C" for current efforts. "The point is that this could turn around if we're not careful," says Arthur Winer '64, an atmospheric chemist and faculty member in UCLA's Environmental Science and Engineering program.

There is a similar split in the area of wastewater treatment. Again, Southern California gets top grades for the area's inland water reclamation plants, but a "C" for the coastal plants, based in part on more than 20 years of delay in construction of secondary treatment facilities as the City of Los Angeles and L.A. County Sanitation Districts sought legal waivers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (The waivers were ultimately not granted, and the facilities are set to be completed within the next couple of years.) "Our worst grade is for allowing the deterioration of the Hyperion treatment plant in the early '80s, where we fail," the report concludes.

While the agencies that supply water to the Los Angeles area receive a respectable "B" for their increasing investment in strategies to manage demand, water users themselves get a "C" for their insufficient conversion to water-efficient technology and little evidence of enduring changes in water-use behavior. And in wetlands conservation, the IoE confers its lowest marks: a "C" for recent efforts to protect and restore wetlands, but a barely passing "D" overall. Given the "dismal" current state of wetlands in Southern California, estimates indicate that only about 10 percent of the original wetland area remains, and most of that has been severely degraded, the report says.

A stated purpose of the Report Card is to promote a dialogue with environmental decision-makers on important issues -- and to be sure, some of the agencies singled out in the first report are talking, even if it's to disagree. Barry Wallerstein D.Env.'88, executive officer at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), while welcoming specific policy input from the IoE, is disappointed that the report expresses doubt about the agency's current policy direction. "All of the easy solutions have already been implemented in Southern California -- any other region that has an air-quality problem only needs to look to what we have done and implement a small portion of that," Wallerstein asserts. "Regarding the future, we need to continue to press for technological advancement and commercialization of low-

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