Thursday, October 18, 2012

On election eve, EPA science advisers will meet to discuss need for tougher smog standards

In case you missed it amid all the recent rhetorical smog in the various election campaigns, I thought you might find it of interest that the lengthy process for reviewing national smog standards continues to grind along slowly. You will recall that a little over a year ago, the White House nixed EPA’s effort to update the obviously too weak national smog standards set by President Bush’s EPA, and told the agency, in effect, to go back to the drawing board. 

 The next step in this process will come on election eve, as EPA’s independent science advisers will meet by phone to discuss several draft letters to the agency on the topics of the agency’s preliminary policy assessment, science assessment and risk/exposure assessment.

 Reading between the lines, you will see that the scientists appear poised to argue that the agency needs to do quite a bit more paperwork before these documents – ultimately the underpinnings of any new standard – are ready for prime time.  It does make us wonder if there will be even further delays in a final decision, now slated for 2014.
I do think it is worth noting, however, that the independent scientists appear ready to endorse the idea that recent science would justify even tougher standards than those nixed by the Obama White House. [EPA later revealed it was planning a standard of 70 parts per billion, down from the current 75.]

 Consider this line, on page 2 of the draft letter regarding EPA’s policy assessment:

The [Policy Assessment] provides a strong rationale for consideration of ozone standards (8 hour averages) of 60 ppb and 70 ppb. The PA also provides adequate justification for considering concentrations below 60 ppb, in the 50 to 60 ppb range.  [emphasis added]

You should expect that big oil and power company lobbyists will definitely try watering down this language as well as pushing for further delays.

From our perspective, the bottom line is that the accumulating science demonstrates that the Bush/Obama ozone standard is far too weak to protect the health of children and others. And that we most definitely need new smog-fighting tools such as cleaner, low-sulfur gas, to reduce the public health threat posed by this widespread and dangerous pollutant.

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