EPA Proposes Science-Based Standards to Protect Public Health, Environment from Ozone "Smog"

January 7, 2010



Tony Kreindler, (202) 445-8108, tkreindler@edf.org
Cal Baier-Anderson, (202) 572-3306, canderson@edf.org
Vickie Patton, (720) 837-6239, vpatton@edf.org

(Washington, DC –January 7, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today proposed a new science-based nationwide air quality standard for ozone “smog” to protect human health.

“EPA’s proposed standards promise clean air protections that reach from the nation’s urban neighborhoods and communities to our rural forests and croplands,” said Cal Baier-Anderson, Ph.D., a toxicologist with Environmental Defense Fund. “Children are especially vulnerable to ozone air pollution. For millions of children, high pollution days make it difficult to attend school, to play outside and to simply breathe.”

The Agency’s new action reverses a 2008 decision under the Bush EPA and follows the recommendations of expert scientists. EPA is scheduled to issue final standards in August 2010.

Today’s action proposes two standards: one that would limit pollution concentrations in the range of 0.60 to 0.70 parts per million (as measured over an eight-hour period), and a second biologically-based standard to protect against ecological effects that would limit cumulative pollution concentrations during the summertime growing season.

Ozone or “smog” is formed from a photochemical reaction when oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds mix in the presence of sunlight. Ground-level ozone is associated with serious respiratory-related health effects in children and other vulnerable populations including missed school days, emergency room visits, hospital admissions and early death. Ozone pollution is also associated with deleterious impacts on the vitality of our nation’s forests, plants, and valuable agricultural commodities.

Administrator Johnson’s March 2008 Departure from Unanimous Scientific Recommendations, Explicit Presidential Nullification

In March 2008, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson finalized an identical national health- and welfare-based standard for ozone of 0.075 parts per million. This decision departed from scientific recommendations for protecting human health and natural systems from ozone air pollution.

EPA’s own statutorily-established Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee unanimously advised Administrator Johnson that the nation’s health standard should be between 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million: “Therefore, the CASAC unanimously recommends a range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm for the primary ozone NAAQS.” Emphasis in original.

The Committee also unanimously recommended that science compelled a distinct “biologically-relevant” ozone standard to protect against the adverse cumulative welfare-based ecological effects on vegetation: “the CASAC unanimously agrees that it is not appropriate to try to protect vegetation from the substantial, known or anticipated, direct and/or indirect, adverse effects of ambient ozone by continuing to promulgate identical primary and secondary standards for ozone.” Emphasis in original.

Immediately after this decision, a March 13, 2008 White House memo to Johnson was released revealing that the President had concluded that the national ozone standard must be identical for health and ecological effects notwithstanding the unanimous scientific findings that a distinct biologically-relevant standard was necessary to protect natural systems.

Sky-is-Falling Prognostications Ignore Time Tested Progress

Industry representatives and their congressional allies vigorously claim the “sky-is-falling” – including the demise of the nation’s hair salons – when EPA establishes more protective national air quality standards. In 1997, EPA Administrator Carol Browner strengthened the nation’s particulate matter and ozone health standards in response to compelling new science. EPA’s decision engendered claims of economic demise and social havoc:

“So economically you are strangled, you are hung up, you are not going to grow, jobs will not occur.” Congressman Ronald Klink. 143 Cong. Rec. 3560 (1997).

The new standards “will wreak havoc on economic growth, jobs, and even personal lifestyles.” Congressman Fred Upton. 143 Cong. Rec. 1286 (1997).

“Dry cleaning establishments, hair salons, and other small businesses will not be able to absorb the increased costs imposed by these regulations.” Senator Spencer Abraham. 143 Cong. Rec. S10813 (1997).

But, during the 1997 debate, Montana Senator Max Baucus provided perspective on the predictable cycle of discourse that ensues from EPA’s decision to strengthen the nation’s air quality standards. He recounted the inevitable prognostications of economic demise. He also explained a world where, in the final analysis, costs are in fact reasonable and millions breathe healthier air:

This is a familiar pattern. Air quality standards have always been met with claims of economic demise. But then technology catches up. Innovative programs are implemented. Further research bolsters the initial decision. In the end, costs are a fraction of initial claims, and everyone breathes cleaner air.

Hundreds of Counties with Millions of People Achieved 1997 Ozone Standard

Environmental Defense Fund examined EPA data and found that EPA has proposed or finalized its determinations of compliance for 217 of the 474 counties originally identified as failing to meet the 1997 ozone health standard. This means that 58 million people living in the 217 counties are now realizing the benefits of vital clean air protections. As Senator Baucus observed, innovation and progress have a time tested history of delivering cleaner air to millions of Americans.

Ozone-Forming Pollution from Power Plants Dropped Significantly in Summer 2009
The nation can make considerable progress in cutting ozone-forming pollution. The oxides of nitrogen (NOx) discharged from power plants are a major contributor to unhealthy ozone concentrations that reach across the eastern United States. 

Preliminary EPA data, recently released, from the summer of 2009 indicates that power plant NOx emissions in the eastern United States dropped by 25 percent – nearly 200,000 tons – during the summer ozone season under the requirements of the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

EDF has analyzed that data and presented it in graphical analysis available here: http://www.edf.org/documents/10711_Ozone-Season-2009-NOx-Emissions-Under-CAIR.ppt

The underlying EPA data is available under “What’s New” at the following url: http://www.epa.gov/airmarkt/