So We’re Getting the Weaker Smog Restriction (Thanks, EPA!)
The Environmental Protection Agency passed up a strict, progressive new smog standard for a more modest limit yesterday.
And if you want to know what happens when ozone pollution gets bad, check out Tuesday’s post on the horrifying smog in Beijing, site of this summer’s Olympics.
Obviously, I don’t have the scientific credentials to claim we can look through the lens of Beijing’s smog problems to predict the future of U.S. air quality, but I can claim that modest standards for National Ambient Air Quality (read: ozone pollution or smog) are going to result in only modest improvements.
A little background, from a BellaOnline article I wrote last summer:
The current standard allows for 84 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone-producing particle pollution every 8 hours. The EPA suggested a new range of 75 to 70 billion parts per billion. However, the EPA’s own Clean Air Advisory Committee recommends a stricter standard of 60 to 70 ppb. In addition, the EPA stated it may not change the standard at all.
The chief medical officer of the American Lung Association and the president of the American Thoracic Society both issued statements after the EPA’s announcement, finding the suggested new level unacceptable. Even if the EPA adopts the stricter end of their proposed standard, 70 ppb, both groups say sensitive groups like asthmatics, the elderly, and young children will suffer respiratory problems.
The revision comes on the heels of the recent federal appeals court ruling upholding an earlier decision that the EPA cannot go in the opposite direction and relax the current, inadequate standard.
Ozone pollution (smog) is extremely harmful to everyone, but especially to people with asthma or other respiratory disorders (please see this American Thoracic Society press release). Smog can cause flares, worsen asthma, and even result in premature death.
Got all that?
In yesterday’s ruling, the EPA decided on 75 ppb. That’s right–not its own advisory panel’s recommendation and not even the lower end of last summer’s proposal. The new regulation means 345 U.S. counties are now non-compliant, but plenty of experts still find this change too conservative. See what they have to say for yourself:
Plenty of industry voices protested even this modest tightening, though. Here’s my favorite quote from the other side so far, from the New York Times:
E.P.A. is promising health benefits that people may never receive, even though theyâll end up paying for them at the pump and through higher energy bills.
–John Kinsman, senior environmental director of The Edison Electric Institute
Why, thank you for your worry over my checking account, Mr. Kinsman. I mean, good prices at the gas station and my power company will probably be offset by all those extra inhalers and prednisone prescriptions my daughter may need as a result, and the ER visits will cost me a hefty chunk also, but I’m glad you’re worried about what’s important here.
Me, I’d rather sacrifice a restaurant meal or two and just pony up the money for higher utility bills SO THAT MY KID CAN BREATHE.
Look, I know there’s another side to this story. While I’m not on the high end of the economic spectrum–really, I can’t even see the higher end from where I’m standing–I also recognize that high utility bills mean not making the rent payment in some households or that hefty gas prices can cut into grocery money. Believe me, I have definitely been on that end. Juggling a new baby who ended up with severe asthma problems when we were just out of college and facing massive student loan debt placed us squarely in that camp for years, and it wasn’t an easy life.
But we all know industrial polluters like the utility interests are not actually worried about our wallets, right? Otherwise, they might find a way to comply to stricter standards without passing on the expense to us. I’ll look for that to happen right around the same time I pick the winning lottery numbers.
As far as those health benefits “people may never receive” go, the connection between smog and asthma flares is pretty well-defined in my house:
1. In August and September, the hottest months here in Florida, ozone pollution increases.
2. During August and September, my daughter usually flares when PE occurs outside.
3. She never needs her inhaler during PE in any other months of the year.
Clean up the smog as much as possible, and how could asthmatics like my kid not benefit?