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    Atlanta Facing Air-Quality Downgrade

    Jump from "serious" to "severe" could force gas station owners to start selling special fuel blends.

    ATLANTA -- Sometime this year, metro Atlanta will join New York, Baltimore, Houston and a handful of other American cities whose dirty air is labeled a "severe" problem by federal regulators.

    Only car-choked Los Angeles has a poorer rating. Its air pollution is "extreme" -- the worst on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's scale, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported .

    Metro Atlanta's jump from "serious" to "severe" could mean gas stations in a 13-county metro area might be required to sell a special fuel that state and federal officials claim could make the air worse. The fuel was designed for California's smog problem, which is different from Atlanta's.

    Georgia has been concerned about the quality of its air for several years. A fuel specifically designed to reduce pollutants in Georgia's air will be sold by gas stations in 45 counties later this year.

    Federally mandated fuel required for metro areas with "severe" air pollution probably would not reduce smog as much as the state-required gasoline, said Kay Prince, chief of the EPA's air-protection branch for the Southeast. She said a "severe" rating won't do much to clean up metro Atlanta's air.

    "Because of the things Georgia has done in their state plan, there's not as much additional emission reduction," Prince said.

    Countering Georgia's air-cleaning measures is metro Atlanta's explosive growth.

    Population has reached 3.9 million in the 13-county area targeted for dirty air. Less than 4 percent of commuters take public transit, and most of those ride buses and trains only because they don't own cars.

    Smokestack pollution used to cause about half of metro Atlanta's air pollution; today it's less than a quarter of the problem. Cars, diesel trucks, construction equipment and lawn mowers cause most of the air pollution now, the report said.

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