U.S. EPA today proposed significantly tougher smog standards after reconsidering the George W. Bush administration's controversial 2008 regulations.
The draft rule released by EPA proposes to revise the two standards aimed at protecting public health and welfare to comply with recommendations made by the agency's science advisers. The Bush administration had rejected those suggestions when issuing the 2008 national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, drawing criticism and legal challenges from environmental and public health groups.
"EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. "Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier."
Smog forms when a mixture of pollutants from industrial facilities, power plants, motor vehicles and other sources react in sunlight. It can cause respiratory problems, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain, and leads to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease.
The agency proposed to set the health-based "primary" standard for smog within a range of 60 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) when averaged over an 8-hour period. The Bush administration tightened the ozone limits from 84 ppb to 75 ppb in 2008, despite scientific advisers' recommendations to issue a standard between 60 ppb and 70 ppb.
EPA is also proposing a separate "secondary" standard aimed at protecting vegetation and ecosystems, including parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. The draft rule recommends setting that standard within the range of 7 to 15 parts per million-hours. Such a standard would be based on a cumulative, weighted total of daily 12-hour ozone exposures to plants and crops over a three-month period. The agency's science advisers recommended setting a separate secondary standard prior to the release of the 2008 rule.
Former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was set to issue a more protective secondary standard in 2008, but the agency rewrote the regulations to include identical primary and secondary standards after the White House intervened on the eve of the agency's court-ordered deadline.
Enviro groups hail reversal
Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers hailed today's proposal, saying that tighter ozone standards are long overdue. Industry groups, meanwhile, questioned the science behind the reconsideration and potential economic effects.
Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said this reconsideration "may be the single most important environmental decision that the EPA makes this year."