Monday, March 24, 2008

White House takes air out of new EPA regulations

THIS MARCH, the Environmental Protection Agency was about to take a major step forward in curbing pollutants that cause smog - until it got word from the White House to make it a baby step instead. The weakened rule will result in several thousand preventable deaths annually. Environmental groups and public health organizations should take the EPA to court for letting last-minute interference by the president and the White House's Office of Management and Budget dictate a less stringent standard.

Thanks to improved pollution controls on cars, power plants, and other industries, Americans breathe much cleaner air than they did a generation ago. But smog is still severe enough in many areas to cause respiratory and heart problems and shorten lives.

The rule regulates acceptable levels of ozone, the main component of smog. Ozone forms when the sun heats up vehicle exhaust, smokestack pollution, and emissions from gasoline and many other substances.

Even under the old standard, set in 1997, most of Massachusetts, with the exception of Bristol County and Nantucket, was in violation, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The new standard will place the entire state out of compliance. Fixing that will require a continuation of the vehicle-inspection and maintenance programs now under way, in addition to efforts to reduce emissions from solvents and paints. New measures, such as encouraging greater energy efficiency to reduce pollution by power generators, likely will be needed as well, according to DEP.

It's well worth the trouble and expense to gain improvements in respiratory health. Nationally, the EPA estimates that its new rule will prevent 1,300 to 3,500 premature deaths a year. A stricter rule favored by its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee would save as many as 9,200 lives a year.

Under current law, EPA can consider the cost of complying with a clean-air standard in setting a timeline of compliance, but not in deciding how stringent the rule should be. Memos leaked last week indicate that input from the bean counters in the budget office did affect the standard, although EPA administrator Stephen Johnson denies it.

Johnson did call recently for amending the Clean Air Act to allow the agency to weigh compliance costs in setting an antipollution rule. Congress should not give this proposal the time of day, and should instead call Johnson before it to explain just what role the White House played in his decision to allow higher smog levels than his own scientific advisers recommended.

Source -

No comments: