EPA Announces New Air Quality Standards Georgetown International Environmental Law Review

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EPA Announces New Air Quality Standards

By Nicholas Nunn, Staff Contributor

The EPA recently strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb,[1] prompting criticism from all sides.

Ozone forms from nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds as they “cook” in exposed sunlight. Ozone is beneficial in the stratosphere, where it protects the environment from the sun’s harmful rays;[2] however, at ground level, ozone is harmful to breathe – creating significant health problems for animals (read: humans) and plants alike. The EPA is particularly concerned about health problems created for at risk groups including children, older adults, and people with respiratory related illnesses such as asthma.

The Clean Air Act gave the EPA the responsibility for setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards.[3] The Act requires the EPA to set air quality standards that protects public health with “an adequate margin of safety” and public welfare from “any known or anticipated adverse effects.”[4] In reviewing the old ozone standards, the EPA reviewed more than 2,300 studies on the effects of ozone pollution.[5] The EPA estimates the public health benefits of the new standards will equal between $2.9 billion and $5.9 billion annually by 2025, outweighing the EPA estimated $1.4 billion annual cost.[6]

The new standard has drawn criticism from both sides of the environment vs. economy debate. The Washington Post quotes John Wale, the clean air director for the Natural Recourses Defense Council, as disappointed in the new standard: “[t]he president’s legacy is shaping up to be one of unprecedented leadership on combating climate change, but weakness on health standards for smog pollution.”[7] The American Lung Association, who had been pushing for a more stringent standard, also expressed disappointment in the standard’s leniency; the association claims the 70 ppb standard “simply does not reflect what the science shows is necessary to truly protect public health.”[8] On the other side of the debate, the CEO of the National Manufacturers Association, Jay Timmons, found the standard too strict, calling the EPA rule “overly burdensome, costly, and misguided.”[9]

Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, states will have until between 2020 and 2037 to meet the newly promulgated standards.[10]

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[1] National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0699 (final rule submitted to Fed. Reg. Oct. 1, 2015) (to be codified at 40 C.F.R. pts. 50, 51, 52, 53, 58).

[2] Environmental Protection Agency, http://www3.epa.gov/airquality/ozonepollution/ (last visited Oct. 13, 2015).

[3] See 40 C.F.R. §50 (1971).

[4] Id.

[5] Environmental Protection Agency, http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/bd4379a92ceceeac8525735900400c27/ffe8a2d2a59797b385257ed000724bf0!OpenDocument (last visited Oct. 13, 2015).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Environmental Protection Agency, http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/bd4379a92ceceeac8525735900400c27/ffe8a2d2a59797b385257ed000724bf0!OpenDocument (last visited Oct. 13, 2015).

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