Sunday, November 05, 2006

Polluters versus scientists: the battle lines are drawn on EPA smog standard review

The battle lines are drawn: it's big polluters versus independent scientists as the U.S. EPA decides whether to update current national health standards for smog. Here's more from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Stricter ozone levels pushed Autos, power plants among the targets
The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 11/05/06

Washington — Environmental organizations, health advocates and the Environmental Protection Agency's own scientists are urging the EPA to tighten federal limits on ozone, or "smog," in America's air.

The agency's scientific advisers on air quality issues last month urged EPA Administrator Steve Johnson to reduce ozone limits by at least 12 percent, and said even that level would endanger the health of persons with asthma, especially children.

"It is the unanimous opinion of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee that the current primary ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard is not adequate to protect human health," the committee's chairwoman, Rogene Henderson, said in a letter to Johnson.

She noted that EPA's scientific staff had concluded that there was no "scientific justification for retaining the current" standard, which was set in 1997.

The committee cited recent experiments purporting to show that when healthy adults breathe air containing the currently legal levels of ozone, their lung functions were impaired...

[on the other side is ] Joe Stanko, a lawyer for a group of electric utilities, including Atlanta-based Southern Co.

"Many state and local officials feel it would be unfair for EPA to move the goal posts before they have finished designing programs," said Stanko, who represents the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.

Other electric utility organizations, the oil giant ExxonMobil, diesel manufacturers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also have contacted the agency, questioning the scientific validity of studies indicating the current limits do not adequately protect human health.

EPA agreed to review the ozone limits in May 2007, and finalize the new standard in February 2008, in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the American Lung Association.

The agreement does not commit the agency to tighten the limits, and Johnson could decide the new standard will be the same as the old standard.

Under similar circumstances, EPA earlier this year angered environmentalists and health groups with a decision to leave annual limits for fine-particle soot in the air unchanged.

The American Lung Association, Clean Air Watch and other organizations have begun campaigns to pressure EPA to tighten the ozone limit.

"This is clear and compelling evidence that today's smog standards need to be updated," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "Smog harms breathers, and the existing standards just don't cut it when it comes to protecting public health."

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