EPA Proposal On "Smog" Will Eliminate Key Clean Air Protections

On May 14th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed an implementation strategy for the health-based national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone or "smog." To date, progress in implementing the ozone health standard — which was established in 1997 — has been stymied. Today's proposal is designed to provide guidance for states to follow in developing local air quality management plans that meet the ozone health standard and will be subject to public comment before becoming final.

"The nation needs a sensible, protective transition to the health-based smog standard that does not compromise our clean air safeguards, and EPA's proposal will not meet that goal,"said Vickie Patton, senior attorney with Environmental Defense. "EPA's proposal would remove critical public health protections in vulnerable areas across the country before the new smog standard will be fully implemented."

EPA's proposal would eliminate a key Clean Air Act program in areas now required to maintain compliance with the one-hour ozone standard. The program, dubbed "transportation conformity" is a safeguard against deteriorating air quality due to transportation-related projects. It ensures, for example, that emissions from major new highway projects are consistent with health-based air quality standards. In addition, vast areas of the country failing to meet the eight-hour smog standard would be subject to a weak implementation program that drops the application of long-standing ozone control measures.

"This is a case of one step forward and two steps backwards,"said Michael Replogle, director of the Environmental Defense transportation program. "EPA has all but ignored enforcement of the health-based ozone standard, and now they are suddenly looking to eliminate clean air measures that have been key to protecting the public from smoggy air pollution."

EPA strengthened the ozone standard in 1997 to improve protection of children and other vulnerable populations from air pollution that can lead to respiratory ailments, hospital admissions and possible long-term lung damage. EPA estimates that 291 counties, with a population of about 120 million people, have monitored violations of the standard, based on the agency's 1999-2001 data.

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