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Tougher Air Quality Restrictions May Increase Gas Prices

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RALEIGH — For the second day in a row, the Triangle and surrounding counties were under a Code Orange Ozone Alert, which means the air was unhealthy for sensitive groups, and that everyone should change their routine to keep the air clean.

Recommended actions for the alert include limiting daytime driving, putting gas in cars after dusk, and not cutting the grass with a gas mower during the hottest part of the day.

While some of the current recommendations seem inconvenient, new legislation may add tougher restrictions to prevent the air quality from getting worse.

TheEPA's new clean air requirements that started last year proved tougher than state officials expected.

When the state asks residents to mow their lawns at night or pump their gas after dusk, there is a good reason.

"There's a lot of little pieces to the puzzle," says Tom Mather with theDivision of Air Quality. "There's no magic bullet that's going to solve this problem."

The problem is ozone pollution -- much of which is caused by car and truck emissions. In addition to voluntary measures, the state says some new mandatory steps are inevitable.

Proposed laws would require stricter emissions tests. Since the equipment is more expensive, fewer stations will offer the service, and those that do will pass on the cost to consumers.

The state and some local governments and businesses are doing their part by purchasing cars that run on natural gas. However, until every car starts burning alternative fuels, everyone may be gassing up with a cleaner fuel.

A bill in the legislature would require North Carolina gas stations to sell a low-sulphur gas, which also cost a few cents more per gallon.

Supporters say it is a small price to pay for good health.

"It's a quality of life issue," saysRep. Joe Hackney. "We don't want to be living in an area where we don't feel safe breathing the air."

There is another good reason to try to reduce air pollution -- the EPA is threatening to withhold Federal highway money from any area that does not start to make progress.

With the traffic congestion around the Triangle, the area cannot afford to delay any of the needed road projects.