EPA proposes strictest federal smog standards yet

Jan. 18, 2010
The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed the strictest federal standards yet for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog.

The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed the strictest federal standards yet for ground-level ozone, commonly known as smog. The primary standard, which aims to protect human health, would be 0.06-0.07 ppm over 8 hr. EPA also proposed a secondary seasonal standard to protect plants and trees.

The agency said it is proposing replacing standards set by the administration of former President George W. Bush that many believed were not adequate. "Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breath easier and live healthier," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said on Jan. 7.

Jackson announced in September 2009 that EPA would reconsider the existing 0.075 ppm standards that were set in March 2008. As part of its reconsideration, EPA said it reviewed the science that guided the earlier decision, including more than 1,700 public studies and comments during its rulemaking process. It also reviewed the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the proposed ranges.

Depending on their final level, the new standards would yield $13-100 billion in health benefits, according to EPA. Implementing the proposal would cost $19-90 billion, it estimated.

Congressional Democrats applauded the agency's action. "I am pleased that EPA is once again basing its clean air decision on the advice of independent scientists. I applaud this reversal of a Bush administration decision to ignore science," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (Calif.)

So did environmental organizations. "This rule will help ensure that all major sources of pollution get cleaned up," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director. "It will drive the need for cities and states to reduce the smog pollution spewing from vehicle tailpipes."

The American Petroleum Institute was more critical. "The action lacks scientific justification," API said in a statement. "EPA acknowledges the newer studies on ozone 'do not materially change any of the broad scientific conclusions regarding the health effects of exposure.' Given that conclusion, there is absolutely no basis for EPA to propose changing the ozone standards promulgated by the EPA administrator in 2008," API said.

API warned, "To do so is an obvious politicization of the air quality standard setting process that could mean unnecessary energy cost increases, job losses, and less domestic oil and natural gas development and energy security."

EPA will take public comments for 60 days following the proposal's publication in the Federal Register. It also has scheduled public hearings on the proposed standards in Arlington, Va., and Houston on Feb. 2, and in Sacramento on Feb. 4.

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