EPA Chief Proposes Tougher Ground-Level Pollution Standards for Ozone

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said yesterday that current limits on ozone air pollution do not adequately protect public health as he released a proposed regulation to lower the limit by as much as 20 percent in coming decades. The proposal came under immediate attack by business and industry groups.

"New scientific evidence indicates that the impact of ozone is more significant than we previously thought," Johnson said. "That's why we're proposing to strengthen the ozone standard."

Johnson said, however, that the agency will accept public comments from groups that challenge the proposed change in the standard.

Johnson said research has clearly shown that allowable levels of ozone can lead to disease but added: "I recognize that others don't agree with that, and I want to provide an opportunity for them to provide comments on which we can make an informed decision."

Ground-level ozone smog is created by the reaction of fossil fuel vapors and products of combustion with nitrogen oxide released by industries and some vehicles. The gas is known to worsen, and perhaps cause, asthma attacks; elderly people, children, and those with already damaged lungs are particularly vulnerable to its effects.

The current EPA standard allows up to 84 parts per billion of ozone; the new proposal would lower that to 70 to 75 parts per billion. That level is consistent with EPA scientists' findings but is higher than the standard an independent group of scientific advisers recommended last year.

The president of the National Association of Manufacturers, John Engler, a Republican former governor of Michigan, said the additional costs associated with meeting the new standards would harm many companies and send jobs abroad. He also said his group will challenge the science used by the EPA, which he said overstates the harm from ozone.

But the tougher standard's supporters point out that the advisory group -- which included industry scientists -- concluded unanimously that the current standard does not protect public health.

"The EPA is proposing to tighten the ozone standard significantly, a move that is essential to protecting the public health," said Norman Edelman, medical director of the American Lung Association. The group sued EPA in 2002 to force it to update the ozone standard, as required by the Clean Air Act.

"The agency's plan falls short of the goal recommended by its own scientific experts. We are particularly concerned that the EPA has left the door open to choosing options that are simply not acceptable," Edelman said, referring to the possibility of maintaining the current standard.

The EPA will take comments from the public for 90 days and is planning to hold several public hearings. Its final rule will be announced next March.

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