Thursday, March 13, 2008

EPA Finalizes 8-Hour Ozone Standards At 0.075 Parts Per Million

Mar 12: At approximately 6 PM, on the court-ordered deadline date, U.S. EPA said it met its requirements under the Clean Air Act by signing what it said is "the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone, revising the standards for the first time in more than a decade." The Agency said it based the changes on the "most recent scientific evidence about the effects of ozone," the primary component of smog. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "America's air is cleaner today than it was a generation ago. By meeting the requirement of the Clean Air Act and strengthening the national standard for ozone, EPA is keeping our clean air progress moving forward." Environmental groups, health advocates and EPA's Scientific Advisory Committee say the level is not low enough; while business groups say it is to high and will cost billions.

The new primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 parts per million (ppm) and the new secondary standard is set at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm. Because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became 0.084 ppm: areas with ozone levels as high as 0.084 ppm were considered as meeting the 0.08 ppm standard, because of rounding.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and other conservation groups filed suit against the EPA in 2003 for the Agency's failure to set smog standards as required by law. The new standard announced is in response to the court-ordered deadline in that lawsuit.

Johnson also used the opportunity to announce that he will be sending Congress "four principles" to guide legislative changes to the Clean Air Act. He said, "The Clean Air Act is not a relic to be displayed in the Smithsonian, but a living document that must be modernized to continue realizing results. So while the standards I signed today may be strict, we have a responsibility to overhaul and enhance the Clean Air Act to ensure it translates from paper promises into cleaner air."

The four principles outlined by the Administrator recommend that the Clean Air Act and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS): (1) must protect the public health and improve the overall well-being of our citizens; (2) should allow decision-makers to consider benefits, costs, risk tradeoffs, and feasibility in making decisions about how to clean the air; (3) should provide greater accountability and effective enforcement to ensure not only paper requirements but also air quality requirements are met, especially in areas with the furthest to go in meeting our standards; (4) should allow the schedule for addressing NAAQS standards to be driven by the available science and the prioritization of health and environmental concerns, taking into account the multi-pollutant nature of air pollution.

EPA estimates that the final standards will yield health benefits valued between $2 billion and $19 billion. Those benefits include preventing cases of bronchitis, aggravated asthma, hospital and emergency room visits, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death, among others. EPA's Regulatory Impact analysis shows that benefits are likely greater than the cost of implementing the standards. Cost estimates range from $7.6 billion to $8.5 billion. As part of today's action, EPA also has updated the Air Quality Index (AQI) for ozone to reflect the change in the health standard. The AQI is EPA's color-coded tool for communicating daily air quality to the public.

EPA said it selected the levels for the final standards after reviewing more than 1,700 peer-reviewed scientific studies about the effects of ozone on public health and welfare, and after considering advice from the agency's external scientific advisors and staff, along with public comment. EPA held five public hearings and received nearly 90,000 written comments.

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.

On October 25, 2006, U.S. EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Ozone Panel issued new recommendations for limiting ozone. The 23-member scientific advisory panel unanimously presented their view that there was no scientific justification for retention of the current 8-hour ozone standard of 0.08 parts per million (ppm) [i.e. 0.084]; and recommended instead that a substantially stronger standard in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm be adopted [
See WIMS 10/25/08]. The Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee, Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Chaired by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), held a major hearing on EPA’s Proposed Revision to the Ozone NAAQS on July 11, 2007 [See WIMS 7/12/08].

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) it supports a NAAQS for ozone that is protective of public health and based on sound scientific information. ACC said it believes the existing 1997 ozone standard meets that test even as the level of ozone and other criteria pollutant emissions continue to drop. They said the available science is largely unchanged since the 1997 standard was issued and demonstrates that there is no clear and substantial basis for making the standard stricter at this time. ACC said EPA's decision, "unnecessarily will impose significant new burdens on states and others even as they continue to try and comply with the 1997 standard."

The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a private sector research organization promoting private alternatives to government regulation and control said EPA rule, "sets an unreasonable standard for ozone air pollution and is unnecessary." They said the standard "will put most regions of the country in violation. Cities and counties could well bankrupt themselves trying to meet it with little or no improvement in human health. . . Under the current standard, levels of ozone and pollutants thatcombine to form ozone are already so low as to have no effect on human health." NCPA said "EPA estimates that attempts to meet the lower standard will cost $10 billion to $22 billion per year, making it among the most expensive federal regulations ever."

The American Public Health Association (APHA) said the new standards were "a much needed improvement and a step in the right direction," but, "the allowed levels of ozone pollution still fall far short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. . . by failing to lower the standard to the levels recommended unanimously by the EPA’s own expert scientific advisors, the EPA ignored an opportunity to set a truly protective standard that would better safeguard the public from respiratory illness and increased symptoms from allergies, asthma, emphysema and other lung diseases."

The American Lung Association (ALA) said, "Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that the smog standard must be much stronger to protect public health from serious harm." ALA urged EPA to adopt an ozone standard of 0.060 parts per million (60 parts per billion).

The national organization, Environmental Defense said, "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 . . . 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." Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for Environmental Defense Fund and a former attorney for the EPA General Counsel’s office said, “For generations, a time-tested commitment to science and law has protected America’s health and environment. The White House today cast aside science and law to impose its will upon EPA, leaving America’s health and environment behind.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, “It is cynical and deeply irresponsible for the EPA administrator to suggest that defining air that is safe to breathe should be poisoned by economics and cost considerations. The American people have a right to healthy air being defined truthfully based on science and medicine -- not presented dishonestly based on economics and what big polluters are willing to pay. . . The administrator’s call to weaken the law to avoid health-protective standards – coupled with his adoption of unprotective standards today – also raises the very disturbing question whether EPA has short-circuited the law and acted based on unspoken, illegal cost considerations. Science cannot explain or justify the Administrator’s decision, so the public deserves to know whether the Administrator’s fervor for a weaker law in the future drove him to break the law today.”

Earthjustice said, "The science is clear: we need much stronger protection from smog than EPA gave us today. EPA's refusal to follow the recommendations of its science advisors and the uniform recommendations of the medical and public health community means that polluted areas like Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley will not see the aggressive action from air pollution agencies that is necessary to address the ongoing public health crises in these areas."

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said, "I am disappointed the EPA administrator ignored the advice of his own scientific advisory committee in setting the new ozone level that is intended to protect people's health. Sound science must be used in setting public policy, and that has not happened in this case. Unfortunately, this action is in keeping with the EPA's track record of ignoring science and making decisions based on politics."

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) issued a statement saying, "Once again the EPA has rejected the recommendations of its scientific advisors and failed to protect our communities from dangerous air pollution. Smog kills, and scientific studies say that thousands of lives could have been saved if the standard had been set in the more protective range, between 60 and 70 parts per billion unanimously recommended by EPA's scientific experts. Today, EPA missed the mark, establishing a standard at 75 parts per billion. I support the standard of 60 parts per billion, the level endorsed by public health advocates like the American Lung Association."

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) issued a statement saying, "Today’s announcement by EPA will have a severe economic impact on Oklahoma and the nation for too little environmental gain. Despite the fact that air pollution levels across the United States are at an all time low and our nation’s air quality continues to improve, EPA decided to further tighten the standard. The consequence of the Rule means that hundreds of counties across the country – which have worked long and hard to come into compliance with the current standard – will once again face potential stiff federal penalties, lose highway dollars, and become unattractive places to locate new businesses.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) which represents the state and local air quality agencies in 53 states and territories and over 165 metropolitan areas across the country commented that it "had supported CASAC’s recommendation that the standard be set in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 [ppm], and had also advocated a distinct, cumulative seasonal secondary standard." The said, Administrator Johnson's announced intent to "overhaul" the Act by allowing costs to be considered in the standard-setting process, "sharply depart[ed] from the statutory mandate of the current Clean Air Act. NACAA said, "In the context of the current ozone NAAQS revisions, and in the 2006 PM NAAQS revisions, NACAA has consistently opposed mixing implementation issues, such as costs, into rules setting the health-based standard."

Access an EPA release (
click here). Access links to the 312-page prepublication copy of the final rule, fact sheets, technical documents and extensive background information (click here). Access EPA's AQI (click here). Access a release from ACC (click here). Access a release from NCPA (click here). Access a release from APHA (click here). Access a release from ALA (click here); and (click here). Access a release from Environmental Defense (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access a release from PA DEP (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access a release from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access the comments from NACAA (click here). [*Air]