White House Unprecedented Action Threatens Nation's Bedrock Clean Air Protections

March 12, 2008
Dr. John Balbus, (202) 572-3316-w, (301) 908-8186-c, jbalbus@edf.org
Vickie Patton, (303) 447-7215-w, (720) 837-6239-c, vpatton@edf.org
Sean Crowley, (202) 572-3331-w, (202) 550-6524-c, scrowley@edf.org
(Washington, DC – March 12, 2008) The White House today took the unprecedented step of overruling the chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in determining the nation’s ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone (“smog”) under the Clean Air Act.    In 1970, a bipartisan Congress entrusted EPA with protecting human health and welfare from air pollution by commanding that the nation set clean air standards based on science alone.    The design of control strategies can and must take economics into account, but standards must be science-based. Any doubt on this issue was ended by a unanimous 2001 decision by Justice Antonin Scalia, in which the Supreme Court held that national air quality standards are to be based on science alone, consistent with 30 years of successful implementation of the Clean Air Act. Today, this time-tested framework for protecting health and the environment from air pollution were cast aside.   
While EPA has in fact tightened the ozone health standard from 0.08 parts per million (ppm) to 0.075 ppm — the least protective end of the 0.070-0.075 ppm range it proposed last June — it fell far short of the protection unanimously recommended by EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), a range of 0.060 ppm to 0.070 ppm. Further, the White House instructed EPA to remove a separate standard designed to protect forests, land, soils, and crops from ozone air pollution. The White House illegally replaced science with politics.
“For generations, a time-tested commitment to science and law has protected America’s health and environment,” said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for Environmental Defense Fund and a former attorney for the EPA General Counsel’s office. “The White House today cast aside science and law to impose its will upon EPA, leaving America’s health and environment behind.”
EPA itself attests that ozone harms crop production and native ecosystems “more than any other air pollutant.” Research indicates that current ozone levels lead to dramatic reductions in plant and forest growth and adverse effects on overall ecosystem health.
EPA’s decision today was required under a court-ordered settlement with American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice and other groups. The Clean Air Act mandates EPA to review the science every five years and determine whether the national air standards should be adjusted in line with the science. EPA missed its deadline for ozone, prompting the groups to sue to force EPA to make the compulsory decision.
An overwhelming body of scientific studies demonstrates serious health effects from ozone exposures at and below the level of the current standard of 0.08 ppm. These studies include laboratory-based exposure studies of healthy young adults showing lung inflammation and decreased lung function after 6.6 hours of exposure to 0.08 ppm, numerous epidemiology studies in adults, young children and infants demonstrating worsened respiratory symptoms and lung function at levels well below the current standard, and a robust array of studies showing increased risk of premature death from ozone exposure well below the current standard. 
By tightening the ozone standard from 0.08 ppm to 0.075, the agency estimates the new standard annually will prevent at least 820 deaths, 1,400 heart attacks, 1,890 emergency room visits for asthma, and 610,000 lost school days by the year 2020.
In contrast, EPA estimates that an ozone health standard of 0.065 ppm — the midpoint in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm unanimously recommended by EPA’s independent science advisory committee — would prevent at least 2,330 deaths, 4,000 heart attacks, 4,600 emergency room visits for asthma, and 1,300,000 lost school days in the year 2020.