Energy & Environment

EPA moves to keep Obama-era smog standards despite review

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signaled late Thursday that it will retain an Obama-era rule on ground-level ozone pollution despite calls from environmentalist groups to strengthen it. 

The draft assessment published by the agency Thursday is only the first step in officially keeping the standards in place; the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee will meet in June to make a decision, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan must sign off after that.

However, environmentalist and anti-air pollution groups expressed dismay at the step, which affirms one of the final decisions made by the Trump EPA in December 2020. 

The 2015 standards establish a maximum of 70 parts per billion (ppb) for ozone, the primary component of smog. Advocates have called on both Regan and his predecessor, Andrew Wheeler, to tighten the standard to 60 ppb.

They were hopeful after the announcement last October that the EPA would review the rule in response to legal challenges. 

“Suggesting the EPA uphold the grossly outdated standards for smog pollution that have resulted in most Americans facing unhealthy summer air quality just as families and communities are hoping to spend more time outdoors, is not only wrong, it’s dangerous,” Holly Bender, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Energy Campaigns, said in a statement.  

“Climate change is making summertime smog pollution even worse, further burdening communities across the country – in particular Black and Brown communities – that have lived under the constant weight of dangerous pollutants driving respiratory illness and asthma rates. We urge the Biden Administration to apply a more sound scientific approach,” she added. 

Proponents of a tighter standard have pointed to both ozone’s status as a greenhouse gas and its contribution to air pollution, particularly in poor and non-white communities.

The current standards allowed for more than 123 million Americans to live with dangerous levels of ozone in 2017, 2018 and 2019, according to a 2021 report from the American Lung Association.  

Tags Air pollution Barack Obama breathable air Climate change Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan Obama ozone ozone standard pollution smog

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