Greens, civil rights groups team up on ozone rule

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A coalition of environmental and health organizations and a major civil rights group have teamed up to call for stringent new limits on surface-level ozone.

The Obama administration is currently reviewing a final rule to set strict new standards for ozone pollution, and it’s expected to announce the new limits this fall. 

The rule’s boosters have said it will help both the environment and public health by limiting a ozone, or smog, which is a major pollutant.  

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and groups like the Sierra Club and Earthjustice  say it’s even more than that. 

They’re sponsoring newspaper and digital ads this week highlighting the rule as especially important for black Americans, who are much more susceptible to adverse health effects caused by ozone because their communities are frequently in areas where smog pollution is worse than even the current standards.

“We want to make it clear that air pollution isn’t just a health issue and it isn’t just a environmental issue, it’s a justice issue,” said Marry Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. 

“Low-income communities, communities of color, have been caring an unjust burden for too long.”

The NAACP has long supported an ozone standard of at least 60 parts per billion, which would be stronger than the 75 parts per billion limits currently on the books. 

Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said the group’s membership voted to endorse tightening the standard in 2010. The organization has fought back against congressional efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from instituting the new rules since then. 

“Given the disproportionate level of African Americans who live near polluting facilities and are adversely affected by air pollution, the people whose lives would be improved by cleaning up the ozone levels are also disproportionately African American,” Shelton said.

Many lawmakers, especially Republicans, have hammered the EPA’s efforts to institute strict ozone limits, noting that many areas of the country are unable to comply with the standards currently in place. 

Industry groups, led by the National Association of Manufacturers, have pushed back hard as well, warning the rules will be expensive to implement and could put jobs at risk.

Shelton said he “understands the skittishness” of some politicians hesitant to embrace the standards. 

But, “we cannot write off the health of our children, for the challenges of local politicians to address real economic needs in those neighborhoods,” he said.