In 2008, the EPA under George W. Bush reduced the maximum allowable concentration of ground-level ozone from 80 ppb to 75 ppb1. Two years later, the EPA decided to reduce the limit still further to 70 ppb.2. What made the EPA decide to do so in only two years? This was unusual because the Clean Air Act only requires the EPA to review its policy on ozone once every five years, the next review required in 20133. What was the rush?
In April 2008, soon after the EPA lowered the standard, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC, EPA’s scientific advisory board on clean air4) sent the EPA a letter strongly disagreeing with the new standard, claiming that the new ozone standard was not low enough to provide a margin of safety. It wanted a primary standard between 60 and 70 ppb. In addition, CASAC felt that a different secondary standard should be established to protect property and the environment. This standard should be cumulative rather than be based on highest average readings5.
A month later, a number of groups challenged EPA’s standards in court. Some of them felt the standard went too far: business interests and some states. Other petitioners felt the standard did not go far enough: environmental organizations, public health organizations, and other states. These lawsuits were consolidated into one: State of Mississippi et al v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In March 2009, the EPA filed an unopposed motion to hold the lawsuit in abeyance while it reviewed the new standard. 6 The revised standard, which lowered the maximum allowable concentration from 75 ppb to 70 pbb, was published in July 20117. In September 2011, the Obama administration requested that the EPA rescind its new standard8.
The document which lays out this new standard, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble published July 7, 2011, lays out a detailed explanation of EPA thinking: why it didn’t think 75 ppb was a good enough standard, why 60 ppb was too low and 70 ppb was about right, and why it felt a new secondary standard to protect property and the environment was necessary9. I am going to try to summarize that thinking here.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Integrated Science Assessment for Ozone and Related Photochemical Oxidants, Third External Review Draft, June 2012, p.lxxiii.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011, p.6.
- United States Code, Title 42, Chapter 85, §7409 (d)(1). To view, click here.
- The Clean Air Act requires that an independent scientific body review the NAAQS at five-year intervals and make recommendations. CASAC currently fulfils this role. See United States Code, Title 42, Chapter 85, §7409 (d)(2). To view, click here.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011, p.18.
- This is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011 that has been referred to above.
- Statement by the President on the Ozone National Ambient Air Qualities Standards. White House website. To view, click here.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011. The rationale for the primary standard (section II) starts on p. 34 and the rationale for the secondary standard (section III) starts on p. 192.