Thursday, October 05, 2006

Commentaries on EPA's particle soot scandal, and the stench from Texas

First, the commentary syndicated by Scripps News at

EPA stumbles again on cleaning up the air


The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls its new standards on soot "the most health-protective national air standards in our nation's history." Clean Air Watch calls them "the single worst action the Bush administration has taken on air pollution." Who's right?

The EPA has two ways of regulating "fine particulates" _ the bits of airborne ash, 30 times slimmer than a human hair, that burrow deep into our lungs and kill us, by the tens of thousands each year, with respiratory and circulatory disease. There is a 24-hour exposure maximum and also an annual limit. Both are important, obviously.

Neither has been changed since 1997, although federal law requires the EPA to adjust them every five years. Indeed, it took a lawsuit over EPA inaction to prompt the new rules.
Make that "rule." The EPA decided to lower the daily limit but left the annual standard alone, against the nearly unanimous recommendation of its scientific advisory panel. EPA chief Stephen Johnson, a career scientist who should know better, said there was "insufficient evidence" of health benefits from reducing long-term exposure.

In this view, he was supported by two of the panel's 24 experts, as well as by the Edison Electric Institute, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and other champions of the soot-producing electric power, trucking and manufacturing sectors.

Joining the panel majority on the other side were an array of environmental and public health groups, as well as the American Medical Association and experts from the Harvard School of Public Health. One Harvard epidemiologist calculated that leaving the annual standard unchanged would result in an additional 3,000 premature deaths per year _ more than the 2,500 deaths the EPA says its tighter daily limit will prevent.

So, whom to believe? An easy call, except for that "single worst action" appraisal. From the outset, the Bush administration has compiled an almost uninterrupted record of dawdling, rollback and industry-friendly rewrites on air-pollution controls. The EPA's split decision on particulates certainly continues that tradition _ but whether it deserves to lead the list, history will have to judge.

As for the situation in Texas, see

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