EPA staff scientists determined that a standard between 11 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter would be sufficiently protective of public health. This was consistent with the advice of the agency’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee. Now the EPA has set the standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of political interference in setting the particulate matter standard. The current annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter was set in 1997. The Clean Air Act requires the standard to be reviewed every five years. In 2006, the EPA misrepresented and disregarded analysis from its staff scientists in setting a standard that was not protective of public health.
Epidemiologist Bart Ostro charged at the time that the agency allowed the White House to insert “last-minute opinions and edits” that “circumvented the entire peer review process.” In February 2009, a court held that the Bush administration particulate matter standards violated the Clean Air Act “in several respects,” and told the agency to follow the science in its 2011 review of the standards.
The Obama White House was accused earlier this year of attempting to water down the particulate matter standard. Fortunately, it seems that the EPA has stood firm on its original proposal.
It could be that the Obama administration’s backbone is growing stronger now that we’re past the election. Hopefully this means that the administration will side with the science on other issues, too.
The American Lung Association is happy. And so am I. But some industries, and some in Congress, are not.
The House Science Committee yesterday complained that the EPA was being “secretive” about the data supporting its forthcoming decision.
Far from it. The members of Congress could save themselves a great deal of time by visiting the agency’s website: the Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter is available here. At more than two thousand pages, the report could keep their staffers busy for a while.
Halpern is with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.