EPA Ozone Rule Reconsidered: Science, Not Politics This Time.

In August 2007, I testified at an EPA hearing in Los Angeles on EPA’s proposal to set a new national limit for ozone, which we here in L.A. think of as smog.  My testimony, the testimony of nearly all the speakers, and the unanimous conclusions of EPA’s own panel of scientific experts were ignored by the Bush Administration which intervened on literally the last day to make the rule more business-friendly – at the cost of public health.  My colleague John Walke blogged about this outrage here.  Not surprisingly, litigation followed.

Obama Administration EPA head Lisa Jackson recently decided, quite correctly, to take another look at the ozone rule.  New public hearings have been set to discuss her proposal to substantially reduce the ozone limit from the bogus Bush Administration number and base it on science instead of politics.

Here is how this is supposed to work.  The Clean Air Act requires that EPA set limits for pollutants like ozone that are “requisite to protect the public health” and that allow for “an adequate margin of safety.”  The limit must protect the health of sensitive groups as well as healthy people. 

As EPA itself recently wrote, “[i]n selecting primary standards that include an adequate margin of safety, the Administrator is seeking not only to prevent pollution levels that have been demonstrated to be harmful but also to prevent lower pollutant levels that may pose an unacceptable risk of harm, even if the risk is not precisely identified as to nature or degree.” 

The bottom line, as I understand it, among the many scientific studies of ozone impacts that EPA has reviewed, is that there are credible studies showing detrimental effects on healthy people at levels of 0.060 parts per million ozone.  EPA’s panel of scientific experts recommended that the limited be set in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million.  The Bush EPA brushed off these studies when it set the limit at 0.075 parts per million in 2008.  But what those studies mean is that a limit set above 0.060 parts per million will not be protective of sensitive populations because it will not even protect healthy people. 

I’m going to testify at the EPA hearing on the new ozone rule on February 4, 2010 in Sacramento and this will be my message to EPA:  any limit over 0.060 parts per million would be illegal as well as unwise.  EPA may disagree, but this time I don’t think that the views of the many people who agree with me will be ignored.