While millions of Americans were getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled stricter standards for ozone, or smog, levels — a rule that has been criticized as possibly the costliest the agency has ever promulgated.
“Yet again we’re seeing the Obama administration release an incredibly expensive regulation on the eve of a major national holiday,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “The administration is clearly hoping to release this at a time when the vast majority of Americans are focused elsewhere, and that alone should tell us something about it.”
The EPA’s proposed standard lowers the acceptable amount of ozone in the air from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65-70 parts per billion. The agency says this new standard is based on more than 1,000 scientific studies published since 2008, and will prevent from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks per year, along with “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.”
“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,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
The EPA said it would take comments from stakeholders on setting an even lower smog standard of 60 parts per billion — a level that industry groups have said would cost the economy $3.4 trillion by 2040.
A standard set at 60 parts per billion would also mean that large swaths of the U.S. would be labelled as out of compliance, possibly heralding more EPA intervention into state environmental plans.
A wide range of industry groups and Republicans have said the new ozone rule could be the most “expensive ever imposed” on American industry.
“This new ozone regulation threatens to be the most expensive ever imposed on industry in America and could jeopardize recent progress in manufacturing by placing massive new costs on manufacturers and closing off counties and states to new business by blocking projects at the permitting stage,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement.
“What’s worse is that this is just the latest in a long line of environmental regulations that have come off of EPA’s regulatory conveyor belt in recent months. Many of these rules are being imposed with little concern or attention to their costs for families and businesses,” Murkowski said. “With regard to ozone, in particular, the projected health benefits are heavily speculative at best, notwithstanding their high costs to achieve.”
Environmentalists welcomed the EPA’s ozone rule, but urged the agency to set the smog standard even lower at 60 parts per billion (ppb) when the rule is in finalized in October 2015.
“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,” said Barbara VanHanken, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter.
Ground-level ozone, or smog, forms when nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds mix together in the hot sun. Emissions from power plants, vehicles and manufacturing facilities can contribute to ozone build-up, but it can also occur naturally from things like plants and fires. The EPA says that ozone can aggravate asthma and lung diseases, and has been linked to premature death from heart and lung problems.
But critics say the science behind the health effects of ozone is far from settled. EPA documents obtained by the blog JunkScience.com through a Freedom of Information Act request show that in 2007, the EPA exposed asthmatic people to high levels of ozone. The EPA claimed in the 2007 study that no human subject has ever suffered from any observed “adverse event” during an experiment.
“Did any of the exercising asthmatic human guinea pigs experience any adverse health effect whatsoever from these high exposures to ozone?” JunkScience.com asks. “No.”
“EPA has failed to disclose that its own careful controlled clinical experiments of exercising asthmatics exposed to exceedingly high levels of ozone experienced no adverse health effects whatsoever,” the blog continues. “And now EPA wants to impose what will be the single most costly regulation of all time on the American economy.”
More recent human studies conducted by the EPA in 2010 and 2011 exposed people to high levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust and ozone. No subject died during the tests, but one test subject developed a persistent cough after being exposed to high levels of ozone for 15 minutes in April 2011.
Ozone levels have plummeted 33 percent since 1980, according to EPA data.
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