The Local Ozone Patrol

The destruction of earth's protective ozone cocoon is one of those global pollution problems that leaves the average couch potato thinking, "What the hell am I supposed to do about it?"

Improbable as it may seem, four local guys have come up with a no-nonsense answer to that question. The four, led by Arizona State University professor John Leshy, are recommending six strategies to reduce local emissions of the chemicals, called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), that are burning holes in the ozone layer.

(An explanation: The ozone layer deflects lethal solar radiation, allowing only a fraction of rays produced by the sun to reach the earth's surface. Damage to the ozone layer is expected to result in soaring cancer rates from harmful solar radiation. International concern about the eroding ozone layer focuses on the United States because CFC production and use are intimately linked to Consumermania and high-tech industry, both U.S. specialties.)

The ideas advanced by Leshy's group range from City Hall-sponsored recycling programs, taxes and regulations to encourage substitution of other materials in consumer goods and industrial uses, and strong city support for state and national legislation to reduce CFC emissions. The proposals stem from a three- month study by the four, all members of the Phoenix Environmental Quality Commission.

James Derouin, commission chairman, praises the study for its depth and common sense. "The ideas are broad-ranging and very doable," he says. "If the city chooses to put these into practice, we will literally become a national leader in local efforts to address this pollution problem."

Phoenix City Councilmember Paul Johnson, unofficial godfather of the study, says he plans to push for the program as part of a multi-city effort. "The strategy is to build a series of strong local efforts in order to build pressure at the national level for a stronger federal effort," he says, noting that commitments by the Bush administration have disappointed environmentalists and many local leaders.

Johnson says he will advocate strong local measures to restrict the use of CFCs in "the real world," a reference to their widespread use in air conditioners, refrigerators and other common products. "I want to be absolutely clear this does not mean a ban on air conditioners," he adds. "I'm talking about forcing a move to safer materials."

Johnson, one of at least three Phoenix city councilmembers known to hanker for the mayor's job, has staked out environmental quality as his main turf. However, he stumbled in his first effort earlier this year to rally public interest on the global ozone issue.

Johnson staged a press conference and stood before the cameras pointing an accusing finger at a Styrofoam cup, saying he wanted to rid City Hall of such hidden sources of emissions. He later issued a clarification after someone gently tugged on his sleeve and explained that most Styrofoam manufacturers have already seen the light and switched to less harmful components.

Undaunted, Johnson then urged the city's environmental quality commission to come up with an effective plan to reduce CFC emissions. The Leshy report, scheduled for public unveiling January 18, is the result of that initiative.

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Kathleen Stanton