EPA sends ozone rule to White House for review

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 1, 2015

U.S. EPA late Friday sent over its final rule setting a new national ambient air quality standard for ozone to the White House for review.

The action will likely set off a flurry of activity at the Office of Management and Budget as interest groups try to get the last word in before EPA releases a final rule. After the interagency review, EPA is expected to release the rule by a court-ordered deadline of Oct. 1.

In November, EPA proposed to lower the ambient limit for ozone, a key component of smoggy air, from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb. The proposal came after the Obama administration shelved a plan to lower the limit in 2011 on economic concerns and in advance of elections.

EPA said in its November proposal that it determined the 75 ppb limit — which was set in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration — was not adequate to protect the public against negative health effects tied to ground-level ozone as required by the Clean Air Act. Ozone, which is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of sunlight, has been linked to reduced lung function and asthma exacerbation.

“EPA has sent the final National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review,” the agency said in an emailed statement. “This routine step is part of the agency’s regular review of the standards, required every five years by the Clean Air Act.”

Business and industry groups have been running aggressive media and advocacy campaigns against a tighter standard on the grounds that it would cost too much in compliance and that the science backing the proposal is uncertain. They’ve asked that EPA retain the existing standard.

If EPA tightens the limit, states will be required to put in place pollution control plans for areas found to be out of compliance with a new standard. EPA, however, estimates that a large majority of the country would meet a tighter standard by 2025 thanks to other air pollution programs and rules that are already underway or proposed (Greenwire, Nov. 26, 2014).

The agency also says reducing ozone pollution to a range of 65 to 70 ppb would prevent between 750 and 4,300 premature deaths, between 1,400 and 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits, and between 320,000 and 960,000 asthma attacks in children yearly by 2025.

EPA received more than 430,000 written public comments on the contentious rulemaking. The American Petroleum Institute today said it worried that the administration was “rushing” the release of a new standard by limiting the interagency review to 30 days.

“We are surprised the administration is limiting interagency review of what could be the most expensive regulation ever,” Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for API, said in a statement. “EPA’s proposal to tighten the ozone standards would fall on top of current limits that are already improving air quality.”

Later this week, business and industry groups plan to highlight the rule’s effects on Pennsylvania as part of an outside-the-Beltway campaign that’s focused on swing states and key cities throughout the country.

While EPA submitted the final rule to OMB, environmentalists doubled down on their calls for the agency to set a more stringent standard. Environmental and public health advocates have urged the administration to set a new limit no higher than 60 ppb based on public health science.

The Sierra Club today urged President Obama to “ignore the pressure from polluters who want to weaken these protections.”

“It’s time to take the advice of doctors and medical scientists, and act to protect the health of American families by setting much stronger protections from smog pollution,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement. “For far too long, American families have paid the price for an outdated smog standard that is much too weak to protect our health.”