Saturday, November 14, 2015

Editorial:  Fighting Smog

The map identifies 241 counties in violation of the 2015 revised ozone standard based on 2012-2014 data.  Note that EPA will not designate areas as nonattainment based on the 2012-2014 data, but will likely use 2014-2016 data to determine area designations. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
President Obama has embraced a new standard for limiting smog-producing ozone that pleases neither business groups nor environmentalists.  The new standard, officially set by the Environmental Protection Agency, limits smog-causing emissions to 70 parts per billion, modestly below the George W. Bush administration’s standard of 75 parts per billion, set in 2008.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is charged with reviewing the standard every five years.  In 2011, faced with stout opposition in the run-up to the elections, the Obama administration retreated from its initial effort to severely tighten the standard.  Many environmental groups have derided this latest attempt.  But it is at least a step forward.

Ground-level ozone forms when a stew of emissions from cars, power plants and other sources cooks in the sun.  The resulting smog can aggravate heart and respiratory diseases, including asthma.  By 2025, the EPA estimates, the new ozone limits will prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks and up to 660 premature deaths.  The Northeast is particularly vulnerable, since power plants to the west generate pollutants that contribute to smog.  Those emissions tend to drift here.

Curbing ozone levels can require costly measures such as installing expensive scrubbers on factory smokestacks.  But the rewards should ultimately include fewer emergency room visits and fewer missed days at work from people sickened by pollution.  The White House estimates that the new standard will in effect pay for itself, generating up to $5.9 billion in health benefits by 2025, and offsetting compliance costs estimated at $4.1 billion.

Industry groups had pressed to keep the existing standards in place.  The 75 parts-per-billion rule expressly ignored the EPA’s scientific advisory panel, which called for lower levels for the sake of public health.  The panel’s most recent recommendations stand at 60 to 70 parts per billion.

Business lobbies predicted factory and plant closings, along with job losses, under tighter standards.  But states and counties with the worst problems have been given until 2037 to meet the new standards, which are more lenient than many activists sought.

Decades of experience in this country have shown that environmental regulation and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.  Moreover, as pollution-choked China has demonstrated, clean air is no luxury.  Studies have shown that heavy smog can harm the developing lung capacity of children, making them more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.  The American Lung Association asserts that a standard of 60 parts per billion would prevent thousands of premature deaths each year, along with 2 million asthma attacks.  The public-health benefits associated with the administration’s standard, it asserts, are far less.

Read more at Editorial:  Fighting Smog

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