EPA pushes tougher air-quality rules

EPA pushes tougher air-quality rules

But the American Petroleum Institute quickly attacked the proposal, alleging that it lacks scientific justification and that there is “no basis” for scrapping the standard the Bush administration set in 2008.

 “To do so is an obvious politicization of the air quality standard-setting process that could mean unnecessary energy cost increases, job losses and less domestic oil and natural gas development and energy security,” said API, the industry’s largest trade group.

The agency is rejecting the Bush administration’s 2008 standard of 0.075 parts per million (ppm), and is instead proposing a standard in the range of 0.060-0.070 ppm.

Also, EPA is proposing to create a “a distinct cumulative, seasonal ‘secondary’ standard, designed to protect sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, including forests, parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas," according to a summary on EPA's website.

EPA says scientific evidence shows the need for tougher standards for ozone-forming pollutants emitted from tailpipes, power plants, refineries and other industrial sources. The Bush administration did not tighten the standards enough, EPA argues.

"EPA is reconsidering the ozone standards to ensure that two of the nation’s most important air quality standards are clearly grounded in science, protect public health with an adequate margin of safety and protect the environment," states an EPA summary of the proposal issued Thursday. "The ozone standards set in 2008 were not as protective as recommended by EPA’s panel of science advisers, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)."

Ozone reduces lung function, inflames airways and aggravates respiratory problems like asthma and lung disease, according to EPA. It can also damage vegetation.

EPA says the proposed rules would reduce illness, and hence cut health-related costs including hospital and emergency room visits and missed work.

The agency estimates that the proposal unveiled Thursday would yield health benefits worth $13 billion to $100 billion annually by 2020, depending on how strictly EPA ultimately sets the standard.

“Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long-overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a prepared statement. The costs of implementing the regulations would be $19 billion to $90 billion in 2020, according to an agency summary.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) cheered the proposal in a statement.

“I am pleased that EPA is once again basing its clean-air decisions on the advice of independent scientists. I applaud this reversal of a Bush administration decision to ignore science,” he said.

This story was posted at 11:01 a.m. and updated at 1:17 p.m.