In a blatant effort to cement bad law and policy decisions during what should be a transition period to a new Administration, EPA Administrator Wheeler announced yet another final rule today—this time keeping in place ozone standards that fail to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.
“That failure to meet the Clean Air Act’s requirements alone is bad enough, but to finalize this rule during a respiratory pandemic, and less than a month before leaving his post, shows the true nature of the decision-making happening right now in the Clinton Building on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Ann Weeks, Legal Director at the Clean Air Task Force. “This is not just bad law, or bad policy, it’s morally unconscionable.”
There are currently 122 million Americans who live in areas where ozone levels are dangerous at certain times of year—and that number will increase as climate change worsens, and summers become hotter. Failing to take the initial steps towards requirements for additional controls on this pollution ignores those people.
This decision to do nothing comes in the face of acknowledged robust studies showing adverse health effects at ambient ozone levels well below the current standard. EPA’s own record for the rulemaking shows that a stronger standard (well below 70 ppb) is merited, given robust evidence of health harms at lower exposure levels. An 8-hour maximum limit of 60 ppb would be a reasonable place for the primary standard to be set, given strong evidence of lung function impairments, pulmonary inflammation, oxidative stress, and other respiratory symptoms in children and adults exposed to ozone concentrations at that level and even at lower ambient concentrations.
Nor has the Administration made any effort to respond to last year’s court decision directing EPA to set a science-based secondary standard that adequately protects plants and ecosystems.
But, as CATF noted in its statement on the decision to maintain the particulate matter standard earlier this month, this decision should come as no surprise, as the Trump EPA has for four years engaged in a broad, multi-faceted effort to ignore, devalue, and undermine the public health benefits of clean air. Today’s decision on ozone is just one more example, together with the unnecessary new requirements for analyzing costs and benefits published today in the Federal Register. That rule is unnecessary, unlawful, and impedes future agency action to protect public health and the environment.
All Americans are owed more from Mr. Wheeler’s EPA, whose duty it is to protect public health and welfare from the harms caused by exposure to dangerous air pollution.