EPA eyes tighter smog standards

| January 11, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the strictest health standards to date for smog, also known as ground-level ozone, which forms when emissions from motor vehicles, industrial facilities, power plants and landfills meet sunlight. The agency is proposing to replace the standards set by the Bush administration.

The agency is proposing 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. EPA also is proposing to set a seasonal “secondary” standard to protect the environment, especially plants and trees.

In September, EPA announced that it would reconsider the existing ozone standards, set at 0.075 ppm in March 2008. As part of its reconsideration, EPA says it conducted a review of the science that guided the 2008 decision, including more than 1,700 scientific studies and public comments from the 2008 rulemaking process. EPA also reviewed the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the newly proposed ranges.

“EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face,” says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Smog in the air we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children and individuals suffering from asthma and lung disease. It dirties our air, clouds our cities and drives up our health care costs across the country. Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long-overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.”

EPA says that depending on the level of the final standard, the proposal would yield health benefits between $13 billion and $100 billion, and would help reduce premature deaths, aggravated asthma, bronchitis cases, hospital and emergency room visits and days when people miss work or school because of ozone-related symptoms. EPA says estimated costs of implementing this proposal range from $19 billion to $90 billion. The agency will take public comment for 60 days and will hold three public hearings on the proposal: Feb. 2 in Arlington, Va., and in Houston; and Feb. 4 in Sacramento, Calif.