Thursday, July 28, 2011

House Republicans Press EPA For Explanation On Ozone NAAQS

Jul 28: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) are pressing U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for more information concerning the Agency's "discretionary reconsideration of ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone and its proposal to issue costly new standards." The lawmakers said they object to the Agency's decision to voluntarily revisit and reissue the standards -- a regulatory choice which they say "is expected to destroy jobs, cost tens of billions of dollars, and stifle economic development in local communities across the nation."
    In a letter to Administrator Jackson they said, "If finalized, these standards will impose unprecedented costs, ranging from $19 billion to $90 billion annually by your agency's own estimates, and result in new regulatory burdens for employers, businesses and already cash-strapped states and communities struggling to grow their local economies and create jobs. These would be the single most expensive environmental standards ever to be imposed by any Administration on the U.S. Economy." 
    EPA announced on July 26, that it would not meet its July 29 deadline for releasing new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone [See WIMS 7/26/11]. An Agency spokesperson said that although it would not issue the final rule on July 29th, which it had intended, it would be finalizing this standard shortly and would be "based on the best science and meet the obligation established under the Clean Air Act to protect the health of the American people. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy."
    They House Republicans said in their letter, "We are committed to continuing our nation's progress towards a cleaner environment and seeing related improvements to public health. It is well documented that, under existing standards and regulations, air quality in the United States has improved considerably and will continue to do so," the members wrote. In light of the economic climate, it is important to note that your decision to issue these onerous regulations at this time is a choice -- it is completely discretionary on your part. There are already stringent ozone ambient air quality standards in place that were issued as recently as 2008. Your choice to promulgate alternate costly new standards outside of the Clean Air Act's normal five-year review cycle defies common sense. The discretionary basis for such expensive decisions also raises serious questions about the Administration's priorities at a time when the nation's focus should be on economic recovery and job creation. The appropriate approach for the agency would be to follow the Clean Air Act's normal five year review process."
    The letter requests Administrator Jackson's participation in future committee hearings that will examine the standards and their economic consequences and asks her office to provide written responses to a series of questions concerning the development of the proposed ozone standards.
    Following EPA's announcement of a delay in releasing it proposal, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a release saying the White House should let EPA do its job on ozone and called the delay "unacceptable." Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program said, "The science has been in for three years. It's past time to set the new standard. The law says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has to base its decision on the science. At this point, setting a standard outside the range scientists have determined is a clear violation of the Clean Air Act. The first step to protecting public health is setting the standard based on science."

    UCS said that according to the Clean Air Act -- and reinforced by a 2001 Supreme Court decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations (Nos. 99-1257, 99-1426) -- ground-level ozone standards must be set solely according to the findings of EPA scientists and the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of experts. According to the law, states and localities can take economics into consideration during the implementation process. UCS said, "The Obama administration promised in 2009 to revisit an unscientific Bush administration decision to define dangerous levels of ozone at 75 parts per billion. That decision, which was later challenged in court, disregarded public health scientists' finding in 2007 that only a standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion was scientifically justifiable. In 2010, the EPA issued a proposed rule in that range. However, a final rule with a specific numerical standard has been repeatedly delayed." [See WIMS 12/9/10]. 

    Access a release from House Republicans and link to the complete letter (
click here). Access a release from UCS with links to related information (click here). Access EPA's ground-level ozone regulatory website for complete background (click here). [#Air]