EPA On the Clock: Mulls Clean Air Rules

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has announced new national ambient air quality standards, no milestones have been set, said Dave Bary, EPA Region 6 spokesman.
“We do not have timelines for counties to achieve the new standard,” Bary said.
The EPA ratcheted down the standard for smog to 75 parts per billion earlier this month, meaning areas up to 75 ppb meet the standard while areas with 76 ppb and higher are in violation. Previously, the standard was 84 ppb.
The agency’s next step will be to develop rules and implement milestones for areas like Tulsa to reach the new standard, Bary said. Clean air standards are measured by what the EPA calls a rolling three-year average. Tulsa’s average is 80 ppb, Bary said.
By March 12, 2010, the EPA will announce those areas in violation and re-classify them by degrees: marginal, moderate, serious, severe and extreme, Bary said.
Today, Oklahoma is in attainment. However, the more stringent standard will push nine counties into violation — Canadian, Cherokee, Comanche, Creek, Kay, Mayes, Oklahoma, Ottawa and Tulsa.
Within the next three years, states have to draw up clean air plans to meet the standard and submit them to the agency. Then, those areas on the so-called “dirty-air list” have 17 years to reach attainment — from 2013 to 2030, Bary said.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Environment & Public Works Committee, criticized the EPA’s revision, saying in a statement the decision will have a severe economic impact on Oklahoma for too little environmental gain.
“Despite the fact that air pollution levels across the U.S. are at an all time low and our nation’s air quality continues to improve, the EPA decided to further tighten the standard,” he said. “The consequence of the rule means that hundreds of counties across the country – which have worked long and hard to come into compliance with the current standard – will once again face potential stiff federal penalties, lose highway dollars and become unattractive places to locate new businesses.”
Over the past year numerous industries, trying to minimize the cost of installing pollution controls, lined up to urge the federal government to keep the previous limit at 84 ppb. The EPA has estimated 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, according to the agency Web site. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled the government had to base the ozone standard strictly on protecting public health, with no regard to cost.
But, last month EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said he would push a revision in the 36-year-old Clean Air Act, allowing regulators to take into consideration the cost and feasibility of controlling pollution when making decisions about air quality.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set limits for air pollution that protects public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” The EPA is also required to periodically review these criteria and, if new scientific evidence indicates the current standards are inadequate, establish stricter limits.
EPA and other scientists have said ozone has a direct impact on rates of heart and respiratory disease and resulting premature deaths. The agency calculates that the new standard of 75 ppb would prevent 1,300 to 3,500 premature deaths a year, whereas 65 ppb would avoid 3,000 to 9,200 deaths annually.
But those numbers may be an overestimate because the EPA omitted contrary evidence, said H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. The NCPA is a non-profit public policy research institute that seeks private sector solutions to public policy problems.
Burnett cited a study of California’s Central Valley, sponsored by the California Air Resources Board that found higher ozone levels were associated with fewer hospital visits.
Also, the institute cites figures stating the prevalence of asthma has risen nearly 75 percent during the last 25 years, and nearly doubled for children, yet levels of ozone and all other air pollutants have fallen. And, the lowest asthma rates in the world are found in developing and ex-Soviet countries with substantial air pollution. At the same time, western countries with the world’s cleanest air have the highest asthma rates. ?



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