Thursday, July 12, 2007

Senate Hearing On Proposed Revision to the Ozone NAAQS

Jul 11: The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Chaired by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), held a hearing entitled, Review of EPA’s Proposed Revision to the Ozone NAAQS. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson; and representatives of Yale University, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control; Environmental Defense; City of St. Gabriel, Louisiana; and an Advisor on Toxicology and Human Health Risk Analysis.

On June 21, 2007, U.S. EPA announced its proposal to strengthen the nation's air quality standards for ground-level ozone, revising the standards for the first time since 1997 [See WIMS 6/21/07]. The proposal recommends an ozone standard within a range of 0.070 to 0.075 parts per million (ppm). EPA also is taking comments on alternative standards within a range from 0.060 ppm up to the level of the current 8-hour ozone standard, which is 0.08 ppm.

In opening remarks, Senator Carper said, "as the federal government strengthens national ozone standards, Congress must also act to strengthen national pollution-control strategies. Setting more stringent national air standards must be coupled with a national strategy to help states achieve cleaner air. The Clean Air Planning Act (CAPA, S. 1177) that I introduced this year provides a national solution by ensuring power plants reduce NOx emissions, which contribute to many states’ current ozone problems.” He said the 2007 version of CAPA would require power plants to drastically reduce their emissions of mercury, as well as the pollutants (nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide) that produce smog and acid rain. Carper’s CAPA bill also would set up a mandatory cap-and-trade program for utilities to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.

Full Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also issued opening remarks highly critical of EPA. She said, "EPA Administrator Johnson has publicly stated that he agrees that the current smog standard is not protective. Unfortunately, as we will hear today, EPA’s ozone proposal allows for more pollution than the science supports, and it could even leave the current unsafe standard in place. The science overwhelmingly supports closing the door on the current standard once and for all. Instead of listening to science, the Administrator seems to be listening to the wish lists of polluting industries. The final ozone rule must protect clean air and public health, period. Anything less is unacceptable... EPA has failed to heed the unanimous scientific opinion of the expert review panel created under the Clean Air Act specifically to provide advice regarding these standards. EPA has said that it may set the standard at levels above those recommended by the review panel, and has agreed to take comments about retaining the existing standard. EPA did this even though we know now that ozone harms people at levels below the existing standard...

"...the independent review panel to say unanimously that 'there is no scientific justification for retaining the current [standard]…of 0.08 parts per million.' As a result, the panel 'unanimously recommends a range of 0.060-0.070 parts per million' as the ozone standard. Yet EPA proposed a standard in the range of 0.070-0.075 parts per million. EPA’s proposal is unacceptable."

Administrator Johnson testified that more than 1,700 studies examining the relationship between ozone exposure and human health and the environment have been published over the past decade since EPA last updated the ozone standards. He said, "I proposed that the current standard does not protect public health with an adequate margin of safety." He said the 1997 standard is 0.08 parts per million (ppm) -- effectively 0.084 ppm because of our rounding conventions.

He said, "After considering the advice from EPA’s scientists and our Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, I proposed to set a standard within the range of 0.070 to 0.075 ppm. This proposal marks the beginning of an open public comment process, during which EPA is inviting comment on a range of primary standard levels from as low as 0.060 parts per million up to the level of the current standard, 0.084 ppm... I fully welcome information from the public addressing whether there are other interpretations of the science or other public health policy judgments that would suggest different levels than those I put forward in the proposal."

Full Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) issued a statement saying, "If enacted, it [the proposed regulations] would have enormous consequences for our nation, with the disadvantaged among the hardest hit. Defenders of tightening the ozone standard will say that the law does not take into account the economic devastation, the loss of jobs, and ruined lives that will be left in its wake. But it should. And more to the point, we should... I find it odd that our government would force cities to comply with standards over which they have no control. As we regulate almost every city in America under this standard, even collectively they cannot control the outcome because you have included emissions from Mexico and Canada...

"Not a single county in Oklahoma is in violation of the ozone standards. Not a single one, Mr. Administrator. Yet your proposal will put virtually the entire State into non-attainment. How is it that EPA last year considered States like Oklahoma to have clean air that was healthy to breathe, yet next year it will consider the air unhealthy – even as their pollution levels continue to plummet?.. am asking you to see the enormous importance of this decision and to ensure that your decision does not go beyond what you are required to do -- that is, set the standard a level requisite to protect the public health. I also encourage you to focus more of your attention to where it should be -- getting areas with truly dirty air into compliance with the existing law.

Access the hearing website for links to all testimony, member statements and a webcast (
click here). Access a release from Senator Carper (click here). Access legislative details for S. 1177 (click here). [*Air]