Trump EPA Proposal to Keep Weak Smog Standard in Place Will Put Americans’ Health at Risk

July 13, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718,

(Washington, D.C. – July 13, 2020) The Trump administration has proposed to maintain outdated national pollution limits for smog the latest in a long string of decisions that put Americans’ health at risk.

The Trump EPA today proposed keeping our current National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone, commonly called smog – in spite of a large body of medical and scientific evidence showing our current level does not adequately protect public health.

“Tens of millions of Americans already live in an area with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone pollution. By law, EPA must ensure that our national standards are set at a level that protects public health – including a margin of safety for particularly impacted groups,” said EDF senior attorney Rachel Fullmer. “EPA’s proposal to maintain the current standard particularly harms vulnerable populations who are more susceptible to air pollution, including children, the elderly, anyone working outdoors, and people with asthma or other heart and lung diseases. EPA even acknowledges that its proposal would disproportionately harm Black communities and low-income communities that have higher rates of childhood asthma and other chronic diseases.”

Ground-level ozone is a pollutant that is a main component of smog. More than 137 million Americans live in an area with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone pollution.

Smog irritates the lungs, exacerbates lung conditions like asthma, and is linked to a wide-array of serious heart and lung diseases, as well as to premature death. Extreme heat, which is increasingly common because of climate change, makes smog levels worse.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to reconsider our National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone every five years. The law requires EPA to set the standards at a level “requisite to protect the public health,” with “an adequate margin of safety” to prevent any known or anticipated health-related effects from polluted air. It also requires that the standards protect vulnerable populations – like children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung diseases – as well as the general public.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone were last updated in 2015, to 70 parts per billion. Even then there was strong evidence that level was too low to adequately protect Americans from smog.

EDF and other experts urged EPA to set a lower and more health-protective standard. But today, the Trump EPA proposed leaving the inadequate standard in place.

Today’s proposal follows the Trump EPA’s refusal in April to strengthen another outdated air pollution standard – for particle pollution, commonly called soot.

Today’s proposal follows a rushed timetable set by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The review process was done without an expert panel to ensure scientific review, and it left insufficient time for adequate review and public participation. Likewise, the proposal only allows for a 45-day public comment period before finalization, half the 90-day comment period provided for the last review of our ground-level ozone standards.

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