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EPA Ozone Standards: Half Measures and Compromises Are Not Good Enough


Washington, DC (March 2008). Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a critical tightening of the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone. We wish we could be happier about this decision, but we cannot. The standard announced today, although an improvement, falls far short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. We are unable to celebrate half measures when the risks are so evident, when the science and the scientists are so united about what is needed and when the missed opportunity means that thousands will suffer more and die sooner than they should. Furthermore, we reject the suggestions made by the Administrator to weaken and undermine the Clean Air Act itself. Coming from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, such suggestions are truly outrageous.

Certainly, today’s decision on the health-based standard opens a welcome new phase in the attack against the most widespread air pollutant in the nation—and among the most dangerous. A tighter ozone standard sets in motion new steps to clean up air pollution. The ozone standard the EPA adopted strengthens the protection for millions of Americans from the air pollutant often known as smog. Yet, by stopping far short of the mark, the EPA action today denies millions more the protection they deserve from their government.

Ozone smog threatens the health of infants, children, seniors, and people who have asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases. For these people, breathing smog-polluted air can make them cough and wheeze, restrict their airways, worsen their diseases, force them to the hospital and even kill them. Even healthy young adults and people who exercise or work outdoors can suffer from high levels of ozone pollution.

Today’s decision means that millions of Americans will not get the protection that the law requires. According to the nation’s landmark air pollution law, the Clean Air Act, the EPA must set our air quality standards at levels that protect the health of the public, including children, older people, and people who suffer from chronic lung diseases. The EPA’s own expert scientific advisors unanimously recommended a stronger standard that would provide much more protection—advice the Agency ignored. Sixteen major medical societies and public health organizations—including the American Lung Association—repeatedly urged the EPA to follow the overwhelming evidence for a truly protective standard. Our recommendations also went unheeded.

Instead of following the law, the Administrator has proposed, incredibly enough, dismantling the core principles that are embodied in the Clean Air Act—legal requirements that have enabled us to reduce deadly forms of air pollution. The Administrator offers to play “pick your poison” with public health, allowing the state and local governments to determine which pollutants to ignore and which to clean up. The Clean Air Act recognized these pollutants as the national priority because they were the most widespread and dangerous. The Act assigned the EPA Administrator the responsibility to set standards to protect the health of all of the public from these pollutants, not just some people, and required the states and local governments to reduce the burden of all these pollutants, not just some of them. History has shown that when communities pick and chose who gets protected, those left behind, exposed to the worst, are usually the weak, the young, the old and those who face life-threatening disease. The Administrator cannot promote such discrimination.

Basic to those principles is the requirement that the national ambient air quality standards protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. The Supreme Court unanimously confirmed that protecting public health be the sole basis for the Administrator’s decision on a standard. History has shown that principle to be sound. The Administrator proposes to change the Clean Air Act to violate that principle. That is completely unacceptable.

Despite arguments from polluters, thirty years of evidence shows that protecting public health has not harmed the economy—nor is it likely to do so in the future. We would encourage the Administrator to read his own website to see the EPA chart documenting that we’ve been able to cut emissions by half while the economy soared.

Given the real dangers to the most vulnerable members of each of our families, EPA’s decisions today represent a compromise the public can ill afford. The Agency moved closer to the need but not only failed to follow the law, the Agency is now supporting fundamentally weakening the Clean Air Act itself.


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