EPA wants tougher anti-smog rules

WASHINGTON, D.C.
November 26, 2014 6:38am
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•  Says it will improve air quality

•  But what of the San Joaquin Valley, which cannot meet current requirements?


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen ozone pollution levels to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion. The current national standard is set at 75 parts per billion.

"Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air,” says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Tougher standards will be problematic for the San Joaquin Valley, which cannot even meet the current standards. The San Joaquin Valley air basin is designated as an extreme ozone nonattainment area for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2008 8-hour ozone standard of 75 parts per billion.

A plan to address the current standard is expected to be due to EPA in 2016. “Addressing the 2008 8-hour ozone standard will pose a tremendous challenge for the Valley, given the naturally high background ozone levels and ozone transport into the Valley,” said the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in May.

The EPA says Wednesday that its scientists examined numerous studies in this most recent review of ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update.

Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below the current standard can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes, the EPA says.

Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days.

Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays, the EPA claims.

EPA also estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs.

Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects that this progress will continue.

The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards, EPA says.

The agency is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield, it says. The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by Oct. 1, 2015.


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