Thursday, December 09, 2010

EPA Delays Ozone Standard For Further Technical Review

Dec 8: In January 2010 U.S. EPA proposed stricter standards for smog [See WIMS 1/7/10]. As part of the Agency's extensive review of the science, Administrator Jackson announced that she will ask the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) for further interpretation of the epidemiological and clinical studies they used to make their recommendation. To ensure EPA's decision is grounded in the best science, EPA will review the input CASAC provides before the new standard is selected. Given this ongoing scientific review, EPA intends to set a final standard in the range recommended by the CASAC by the end of July, 2011.
    While EPA was under a court order to issue the revised regulations by the end of the year, in a December 8, 2010, filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, the Agency said, "In its previously-filed motion to govern further proceedings, EPA stated that it required additional time, until December 31, 2010, to complete that rulemaking and sign a final rule, and thus requested that the Court continue to hold these cases in abeyance and direct the parties to file motions to govern further proceedings by January 10, 2011. . . the EPA Administrator recently determined that additional advice from the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) may prove useful and important in evaluating the scientific and other information before her."
    EPA told the court it, "intends to submit questions to the CASAC panel for the Ozone NAAQS Rule requesting additional advice, with the expectation that, for example, CASAC's advice 'may aid the Administrator in most appropriately weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific evidence and other information before her, and thus aid her in the exercise of judgment as to the appropriate standard for ozone under CAA section 109(b).' . . . The CASAC process also includes an opportunity for the public to submit comments to CASAC and EPA. Thereafter, the Administrator will consider CASAC's further advice and any additional public comments, together with the other record information, to reach her final decision. EPA expects that this process will require just over an additional seven months, until July 29, 2011."
    The Agency is proposing to replace the standards set by the previous administration, which many believe were not protective enough of human health [See WIMS 3/13/08]. EPA is proposing a rule to set the "primary" standard, which protects public health, at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours. The current primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 ppm. EPA was originally scheduled to issue final standards by August 31, 2010, but has now requested three extensions.

    The proposal has been highly controversial. The American Petroleum Institute (API) has testified that, "Without a clear certain scientific basis for selecting a different numeric standard, the ozone standard need not be changed now." and urged the Administrator not to pursue the proposal. API said EPA's own studies failed to support a lowering of the ozone standards. On the other hand, environmental organizations have pointed out that strengthening the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone pollution from 75 to 60 parts per billion (ppb) would reduce premature death rates by 60-fold and reduce asthma cases 50-fold, according to analyses by EPA [See WIMS 2/10/10].
    Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), issued a statement saying, "While I welcome news of the delay, I remain concerned about EPA's direction in addressing the 2008 ozone NAAQS. Employers, small businesses, and local communities still have good reason to suspect EPA will impose more burdensome new regulations that restrict investment, job creation, and economic growth. States are making, and will continue to make, significant progress in achieving cleaner air. So EPA must very carefully rely on the best available science to guide its decision-making in the coming months.  I will be conducting oversight to ensure that it does. It's also important to note that any more stringent standard within the range EPA is considering would have widespread negative consequences. Based on 2008 air quality data, a standard of 65 ppb would create 608 new non-attainment areas, while a standard of 70 ppb would create 515 such areas. Non-attainment is a scarlet letter that condemns local areas to more burdensome regulations and thus an even steeper climb out of recession."
    The Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC's) Executive Director Peter Lehner issued a statement in response to EPA's decision and said, "This delay will sicken many Americans. Ozone pollution aggravates wheezing and coughing caused by asthma and other respiratory ills. It sends children and seniors to the hospital. We are confident, however, that additional scientific analysis will support the need for a fully protective standard. We must let EPA follow the science and not let polluters convince Congress to weaken the safeguards we need. The EPA must set the bar where it belongs. We'll all breathe easier once that's done."
    Earthjustice attorney David Baron said, "Delaying this important air rule is deplorable. The nation's leading medical experts and EPA's own science advisors say we need stronger standards. This evidence has been available for years. EPA does not need another six months to do its job: It must protect our lungs and those of our children now. Earthjustice is talking with its clients about legal options for putting an end to further delays on these urgently needed protections."

        Access EPA's 22-page court filing (click here). Access EPA's ground-level ozone regulatory website for complete background (click here). Access a release from Sen. Inhofe (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here).