EPA Tightens Smog Standard:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a more stringent National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone (aka "smog"). From the EPA announcement:

EPA today met its requirements of the Clean Air Act by signing the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone, revising the standards for the first time in more than a decade. The agency based the changes on the most recent scientific evidence about the effects of ozone, the primary component of smog.

"America's air is cleaner today than it was a generation ago. By meeting the requirement of the Clean Air Act and strengthening the national standard for ozone, EPA is keeping our clean air progress moving forward," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

The new primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 parts per million (ppm) and the new secondary standard is set at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm. Because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became 0.084 ppm: areas with ozone levels as high as 0.084 ppm were considered as meeting the 0.08 ppm standard, because of rounding.

Although the standard is, as EPA noted, the most stringent ozone NAAQS ever adopted, it is not as stringent as that recommended by the EPA's Science Advisory Board. Also of note, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson stated he wants Congress to give the EPA authority to consider costs when setting NAAQS under the Clean Air Act. The Washington Post reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday limited the allowable amount of pollution-forming ozone in the air to 75 parts per billion, a level significantly higher than what the agency's scientific advisers had urged for this key component of unhealthy air pollution.

Administrator Stephen L. Johnson also said he would push Congress to rewrite the nearly 37-year-old Clean Air Act to allow regulators to take into consideration the cost and feasibility of controlling pollution when making decisions about air quality, something that is currently prohibited by the law. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that the government needed to base the ozone standard strictly on protecting public health, with no regard to cost. . . .

Nearly a year ago, EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee reiterated in writing that its members were "unanimous in recommending" that the agency set the standard no higher than 70 parts per billion (ppb) and to consider a limit as low as 60 ppb. EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee and public health advocates lobbied for the 60-ppb limit because children are more vulnerable to air pollution. . . .

Rogene Henderson, who chairs the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said in an interview that she disagrees with Johnson's decision even as she welcomed a tighter standard.

"We can't kid ourselves that this is as health protective as we would like, but this is a step in the right direction," Henderson said. "I understand that with our dependence on fossil fuels, it's difficult to reduce ground-level ozone. But the fact that it's difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing."

A slew of industries had recently urged White House officials to keep the current limit, effectively 84 ppb, to minimize the cost of installing pollution controls. The EPA estimated that it will cost polluting industries $7.6 billion to $8.8 billion a year to meet the 75-ppb standard, but that rule will yield $2 billion to $19 billion in health benefits. . . .

Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government is obligated to reexamine the science underpinning its smog standards every five years. The agency last revised the standards in 1997, and 85 counties have yet to meet those rules.

As both industry and environmentalist groups are unhappy with the new standard, litigation will surely follow.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Bush Sought Less Stringent Ozone Standard:
  2. EPA Tightens Smog Standard:
M. Lederman (mail):
I'd be a bit skeptical about the Novak account.
3.13.2008 10:59am
cjwynes (mail):
I don't know how they come up with their projections for the value of potential health benefits for an incremental reduction in smog. Even if we trust their range, we're given no indication what will determine whether the true benefit falls on the low or high end of that projection.

If industry ends up paying $7-8 million per year for the low end estimate of $2 million in benefits (per year? -- the article doesn't say), that would be incredibly wasteful. Any cost above what is needed to correct the externalities problem is inefficient.

It also seems like a windfall to the people who live in the dozen or so cities where smog is a legitimate health concern. As the costs to industry are likely to be distributed throughout the market in some fashion, people like myself who live in rural areas will effectively be subsidizing the urbanites' lifestyle.
3.13.2008 11:15am
Houston Lawyer:
Houston often fails to meet the existing ozone standards. To fix this, they have lowered the speed limit on the freeways to 65. They also proposed making it illegal to mow your lawn with gas powered mowers, weedeaters, blowers etc. between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. It will be interesting to see what new regulations this new standard will bring into existence.
3.13.2008 12:15pm
Joe -- Dallas, TX (mail):
The moving force for the implementation of more strigent ozone standards are the studies showing increased premature mortality due to high ozone concentrations. (Ozone and short term mortality in 95 us urban communities 1987-2000, JAMA 11/17/2004). However, there are enough anomolies in the study and other similar studies that create serious queistions regarding the validity of the studies. For example, Honolulu shows the same increase in in premature mortaility for a 10parts per billion increase of ozone as memphis or houston, even though the actual concentration of ozone is 20% of houston or memphis. Los Angeles actually shows a much lower increase in premature mortality than honolulu, colorado springs, rochester ny, even though the overall level of pollution is much greater in LA.

Other studies show that during the heat wave of europe/france a few summers back show high correlation of premature death due to the ozone concentrations, but other cities with similar increase in deaths with virtually no correltation to ozone. Simply put, there are too many situations where ozone has negative correlations to the premature death.

I am all for cleaner air, However, based on my review of the studies and the underlyng data, there is most likely some false indications of the association of premature death due to ozone.
3.13.2008 12:49pm
Adam J:
cjwynes - considering tax dollars tradionally flow from urban areas to rural, that would be a nice change. Also, consider that the 2 billion dollars in health costs has alot of non-monetary pain and suffering that isn't included in that cost, lung cancer is a really ugly way to go.
3.13.2008 2:24pm
John C:
As a born and raised resident of Southern California I can say that the air quaility here is orders of magnitude better then when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. Back then, playing hard outside on a smoggy afternoon would net you a cough and a sore chest. A quick survey of the local kids brought strange looks and shaken heads when I asked if that still happens.

But, what's funny, is that as the standards are increased and the air quaility gets better, both the local AQMD, Air Resources Board, environmentalists, BAR staff, and others keep harping about how bad things are.
3.13.2008 6:33pm