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California Students Call for Cleaner Air

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Hundreds of environmentalists, doctors and students supported strengthened smog protections at a final public hearing before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decides on new clean air standards.

Advocates called for the EPA to adopt stricter standards on smog and decrease the acceptable parts per billion from the current 75 ppb to 60 ppb.

Reducing the acceptable range would be a major step in combating California's smog, and would force industries to adapt to stricter pollution standards.

The EPA says today's smog limits are too weak. The public hearing in Sacramento was the third on the proposal to reduce federal limits to a range of 65-70ppb.

The reduced limits were proposed in November 2014. The EPA says reducing smog will improve public health and save millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

California is home to the smoggiest areas in the nation, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, Visalia, Bakersfield and Sacramento. Southern and Central regions of California have struggled to meet federal air protections for decades, according to the Sierra Club.

"Our current standards are inadequate and have resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of asthma attacks and millions of dollars lost," the Sierra Club's National Program Director Sarah Hodgdon said in a statement. "The EPA's proposal to reduce smog pollution is the first step in the right direction to protect our public and environmental health."

More than 400 people joined the Sierra Club and its partners on Monday for a rally at the capitol, urging the EPA to adopt the stricter standards. Environmentalists, doctors, nurses and high school students testified to the EPA.

"What the 107 students from Desert Mirage High School are doing today by testifying about smog and the air quality hardships they are facing is not only historic for my district, but it's also a breath of fresh air as it relates to how our young people are engaging in the policy making process," said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.

Opponents of the EPA proposal say meeting the federal smog standards introduced by the Bush administration in 2008 should be the main focus and that stricter standards could hurt California's economy.

In 2011 President Obama advised the EPA to stop a similar proposal on smog and ozone standards, though some say that was maneuvering before the 2012 election.

The EPA is under an October deadline on its proposal. If adopted, the proposal would give states time to research and develop plans to meet the new standards. It's expected that most states would have to meet smog limits by 2025, though California could be given more time due to its unhealthy air.

"For us, smog is standing in the way of having a long, fulfilling life in the Central Valley, which is why it is critical that the EPA step up and enforce air safeguards that will protect these residents for generations to come," said Rosanna Esparza, Kern County organizer for Clean Water Action.

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