EPA sets new ozone standard but faces challenges

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Got smog? EPA wants to cut ozone, but will face a challenge on new standard.

Environmentalists say new rule is to weak; industry asks Congress to step into the fray

Staff Report

The EPA’s new smog-fighting ozone standard is likely headed down the same path as the agency’s other recent initiatives to improve the environment.

Like the recently updated wetlands rule and the Clean Power Plan, the new ozone limit was immediately criticized from all sides. Environmental advocates said the agency ignored its own experts when it set the new limit at 70 parts per billion. Industry claims the new rule will cut profits and cost jobs.But the EPA is confident that the science backs up the limit, set under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“The updated standards will reduce Americans’ exposure to ozone, improving public health protection, particularly for at risk groups including children, older adults, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma, the EPA said in a release.

“Put simply – ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable: our kids, our elderly and those suffering from heart and lung ailments,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people. Today’s action is one of the most important measures we can take for improving public health, reducing the costs of illness and protecting our children’s health.”

All scientific evidence shows that ozone can cause a number of harmful effects on the respiratory system, including difficulty breathing and inflammation of the airways. The revised standards will reduce premature deaths, missed school and work days and asthma attacks.

For people with lung diseases like COPD or the 23 million Americans and 6 million children living with asthma, these effects can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Evidence also indicates that long-term exposure to ozone is likely to be one of many causes of asthma development. And studies show that ozone exposure is likely to cause premature death. The public health benefits of the updated standards, estimated at $2.9 to $5.9 billion annually in 2025, outweigh the estimated annual costs of $1.4 billion.

Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2014, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent, while the economy has continued to grow.

The agency also extended the ozone monitoring season for 32 states and the District of Columbia, which means more at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma will get better information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

EPA also is strengthening the “secondary ozone standard” to 70 ppb, which will improve protection for trees, plants and ecosystems. New studies since the last review of the standards add to evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone reduces growth and has other harmful effects on plants and trees. These types of effects have the potential to harm ecosystems and the benefits they provide.

But the group that forced the EPA to update the ozone standard with a lawsuit said the new rule falls short of what doctors say is needed to save lives and protect kids, seniors, and asthmatics from harm.

“The science shows that ozone is dangerous to these kids at the levels allowed by this new standard,” said Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice’s vice president of Healthy Communities.

Medical experts recommended setting the standard at 60 parts per billion limit.

“This weak-kneed action leaves children, seniors, and asthmatics without the protection doctors say they need from this dangerous pollutant,” said Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron.

“It will allow thousands of deaths, hospitalizations, asthma attacks, and missed school and work days that would be prevented by the much stronger standard supported by medical experts.  It’s likely this weak standard will be challenged in court as a betrayal of the Clean Air Act’s promise of healthy air,” Baron said.

EPA also rejected calls from its science advisers and the National Park Service to set a strong, separate standard to protect forests from ozone.  “Ozone damages trees and stunts their growth in National Parks and forests throughout the nation,” Baron said.  “EPA’s failure to set a standard that protects these majestic places is indefensible.”

Meanwhile, industry also complained bitterly, calling the new rules costly and misguided.

“For months, the Administration threatened to impose on manufacturers an even harsher rule, with even more devastating consequences,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. “After an unprecedented level of outreach by manufacturers and other stakeholders, the worst-case scenario was avoided. However, make no mistake: The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.”

More information: http://www3.epa.gov/ozonepollution/

 

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