Press Release | January 7, 2010

SELC Lauds EPA Proposal to Strengthen Ozone Limit to Protect Health of Southerners

Consistent with the latest scientific data about the growing health threat from breathing smog pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to strengthen the national limit for allowable ozone levels. The move would mean that more areas, such as some mid-size cities,  will come under Clean Air Act requirements and deadlines leading to more people breathing cleaner air in the future.  In addition, for areas already violating the older, more lenient ozone standards, the move would mean that more steps will be needed to meet Clean Air Act obligations.

The EPA proposes to tighten the allowable ambient air levels from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to within the range of 60 to 70 ppb. In 2008, the Bush Administration lowered the standard from 84 ppb to 75 ppb, despite recommendations from public health experts and its own federal scientists for a standard no higher than 70 ppb  to best protect more people from breathing dirty air.

Ground-level ozone, or smog, has plagued Atlanta, Charlotte, Knoxville, Birmingham and other urban centers in the South for years. The colorless, odorless gas triggers asthma attacks and causes other lung and heart disease, as well as premature death. In the fast-sprawling South, vehicle exhaust is the main source of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, the primary contributors to ozone pollution. Coal-fired power plants also contribute to the problem.

Lowering the limit to at least 70 ppb would bring many more communities into nonattainment, triggering clean-up requirements that would benefit hundreds of thousands of citizens, and would underscore the need for aggressive, prompt action in those areas already violating the older standards.

Frank Rambo, SELC Senior Attorney: “During the Spring through Fall smog season, ozone pollution is a particularly bad problem in the fast-sprawling South, where our drive times are long and growing longer. As the science shows, reducing ozone pollution by as little as 5 parts per billion can mean a huge difference for thousands of asthma sufferers and others. If EPA follows the law and follows the science, it will strengthen the standard.  We look forward to working with localities in the South to quickly meet that new standard.”

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