Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breathers Beware! EPA Admits It Is Way Behind Deadline on Smog Standard Review

You can be excused if you missed or paid little attention to yesterday's announcement by health and environmental groups that they've filed suit in federal court to prompt the U.S. EPA to make a timely decision on updated national health standards for ozone, commonly known as smog.
(The announcement was, understandably, eclipsed by President Obama's address on carbon dioxide and related "messaging" by Secretary of State John Kerry and the President's staff.)

Buried in the minimal coverage of this announcement was a public admission by the EPA that it is WAY behind schedule in reviewing this issue!  Breathers will continue to suffer unnecessarily unless the lawsuit prompts a quicker decision. 

Here is a brief recap of the issue and the background:

In 2008, the EPA under President Bush gave the oil industry and other big polluters a victory by setting an ozone standard of 75 parts per billion despite the unanimous recommendation of the agency's science advisers that the standard should have been set between 60 and 70.

When the new Obama administration took office, it promised to take a fresh look at that issue. The EPA sent a clear signal that this was a high priority and that it intended to fix the Bush mistake.

And the EPA under Lisa Jackson was attempting to do just that -- until the big foot of the Obama White House squashed her effort. Following more complaints by the same big polluters who shaped the Bush decision, the Obama White House (led by then chief of staff Bill Daley and then-regulatory "czar" Cass Sunstein) killed EPA's attempt to update the standard.

At that point, EPA -- as it is required to by the Clean Air Act -- had already begun to review more recent science on ozone.  And the White House seized on this fact to create a cover story to sugarcoat this nefarious decision. The President himself declared that:

Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. [emphasis added] Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered.

And then the Obama administration went to federal court to defend the Bush standard (now the Obama-Bush standard) against suits by state, health and environmental groups.  A decision is expected soon.

And for the past two years, EPA has continued to grind away on the scientific review. A blow-by-blow is available here:

But -- following the announcement of the lawsuit against the agency -- EPA has publicly admitted not only that it will not complete its "reconsideration of the standard in 2013" as the President had promised, but has suggested that the review could far beyond that date.  As Politico reported, an EPA spokesperson said in response to the lawsuit that

“EPA is continuing to work with its scientific advisers on the ongoing review of the ozone standard to determine whether a revision is appropriate based on the extensive body of research that will inform EPA's decision. The agency is following its normal open and transparent review process that allows for extensive public comment,” Johnson said.

EPA has also asked its science advisers to schedule another meeting on the review to allow “for additional analytical work that is needed to inform the next drafts of the risk and exposure assessments, and the policy assessment — key documents in the ozone review process. EPA anticipates releasing those documents for public review in December 2013,” Johnson said.

So EPA does not even plan to release its next draft of those preliminary documents before December!
After that, there would be another meeting of the scientific advisers (presumably in 2014) and then yet another "final" version of the document known as the "policy assessment" -- all before the agency actually goes to the step of an actual proposal. (Which, of course, would have to go through a lengthy White House review.)

I truly hate to say this, but it now appears that -- unless the lawsuit prompts quicker action -- that the best case now seems to be a proposal in late 2014, with final standards no earlier than mid to late 2015 -- two years after the President's promise and once again in the middle of a Presidential election campaign, just like in 2011.   Could it be deja vu all over again?

Meanwhile, breathers will continue to get sick and have their lives cut short as the government lies to them about what constitutes a safe level of air to breathe.

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