Botella: "Unemployment is suffocating people more than pollution"

Madrid city environment chief claims criticism of air quality is "outrageous"

Far from backtracking on her assertion that pollution in Madrid is not a problem, the capital city's environment chief Ana Botella went further on Wednesday night. Having previously stated, apparently without irony, that "the planet is at the service of human beings," Botella remarked that "unemployment is suffocating people more" and accused detractors of alarmism over the state of the city's air.

Botella also accused Environment Minister Rosa Aguilar and the government of using the issue as a vote-winner ahead of regional elections in May. "It is outrageous," Botella said of Aguilar's criticism. "All we have done is to obey the law."

Botella's comments echo those of Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who claimed earlier this week that the air quality in the capital is the best it has been for a decade. Ecologists in Action, which is to file a criminal case against Botella and Gallardón today in Madrid, points out that the relatively low levels of suspended particles in Madrid's air during 2010 ? the city has exceeded EU maximum permitted levels every year since a 1999 regulation set the bar at 40 micrograms per cubic meter ? were achieved by moving monitoring stations outside of the city center, or simply shutting them down.

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Already in 2011, two stations in Madrid have exceeded the annual limit for excess nitrogen dioxide levels.

Aguilar, who has described the air in Madrid as "dreadful," met yesterday with the president of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Regions, Pedro Castro, in the capital. In an interview with state radio, Castro said that politicians would have to "make brave decisions, which will be traumatic and unpopular."

"We have to move administrative offices to the periphery," Castro said. "We can't have four million Madrileños coming into the center every day to work, carry out errands or go shopping." Aguilar has proposed a working committee to study a reform to the road tax law to penalize cars that do not meet basic environmental standards.

The regional premier of Cantabria, in Madrid to discuss the Coasts Law with Aguilar, noted "the pollution in [his] throat. I come from a place where the air is clean and transparent."

Pollution over Madrid, seen from Paracuellos de Jarama, to the west of the city.
Pollution over Madrid, seen from Paracuellos de Jarama, to the west of the city.CRISTÓBAL MANUEL
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