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Andrew Burger headshot

EPA Proposes to Tighten Ozone Emissions Standard

By Andrew Burger

On Nov. 26, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy took another step forward in the federal government's three-plus decades long effort to improve air quality, and environmental and human health and safety, by driving further reductions in air pollution across the U.S.

Responding to “extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone," or smog, Ms. McCarthy announced: “EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans' health and the environment.” In addition, EPA said it is taking comments on tightening ozone emissions standards further, to 60 ppb.

“So, 60 is on the table for comment as well as consideration,” McCarthy stated in a conference call. “Now this is a proposal, so taking comments on a range of different outcomes is exactly how we're supposed to do it, and I'm excited to get moving with the comment process because the conversation isn't over. This is an opportunity for us to look at all of the science together.”

Tightening up on smog control

EPA is required to review ozone emissions standards every five years as per the Clean Air Act. Its last review was in 2008, when EPA set a national ozone emissions standard of 75 ppb.

Designed to be open and transparent, the review process entails taking comprehensive account of the latest scientific research on the topic and considering counsel of a panel of independent experts.

"Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones -- because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” McCarthy was quoted in an EPA press release.

“Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

Political reactions

In an audio report, C-Span highlighted reactions via Twitter to the EPA's proposed stricter standards for ozone emissions. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “EPA's latest ozone regulation kicks the ladder out from underneath us.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California takes an opposing view: “Today, EPA took a key step to curb smog in our atmosphere. Future generations will benefit greatly as a result."

The Sierra Club came out strongly in favor of the EPA's action:

“We applaud the EPA proposal to lower the existing standard, and strongly encourage the agency to limit this pollution to 60 ppb when they finalize the exact standard in October of 2015. A 60 ppb standard will be a breath of fresh air for thousands of Americans who suffer needlessly with asthma attacks, nervous system disorders and heart ailments when exposed to smog pollution.

“The EPA has raised the mantle of putting people before polluters and holding negligent companies accountable for what they expose our communities to. Choosing to lower the standard from 75 ppb is a tremendous step toward putting the health of children above polluters, and we hope the EPA takes another one and places the final standard at 60 ppb come October of 2015.

“The EPA’s decision to side with children’s health contributes greatly to the integrity of the agency’s efforts towards transparency. From coast to coast, newspapers, school boards, and community organizations depend on the EPA to provide them with the most accurate measurements of air pollution available and the new proposal does just that.”

Senate Republican Party Committee Chair John Barrasso said, "EPA's ozone rule is more proof the Obama administration is turning a deaf ear to Americans, who want Washington to focus on jobs.” Of course, complying with the EPA's proposed ozone emissions standards will mean a wide range of sources – power plants, oil refineries, petrochemical plant operators and auto manufacturers -- will have to invest capital and create work if the new standard is enacted, and that's likely to create jobs.

*Image credits: 1), 3) US EPA; 2) Union of Concerned Scientists

Andrew Burger headshot

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger