Obama administration sets new national ozone standard
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has set a new national ozone standard, tightening limits on the smog-forming pollution linked to asthma and respiratory illness.
Officials familiar with the plan but not authorized to speak on the record said the Environmental Protection Agency will set a new standard of 70 parts per billion on Thursday, meeting a court-ordered deadline to act.
The new standard is below the current standard of 75 parts per billion but at the high end of a range announced by the EPA last fall.
The move fulfills a long-delayed campaign promise by President Barack Obama, but sets up a fresh confrontation with Republicans already angry about the administration’s plans to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and regulate small streams and wetlands.
Business groups said a new ozone standard is unnecessary and could jeopardize jobs.
But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said public health benefits far outweigh costs.
Environmental and public health groups called the action a step in the right direction, but said it did not go far enough.
“The level chosen of 70 parts per billion simply does not reflect what the science shows is necessary to truly protect public health,” said Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association.
The lung association and other groups have pushed for an ozone limit of 60 parts per billion, saying it would have given Americans much greater health protections.
The EPA declined to comment ahead of the official announcement, but a top EPA official told Congress this week that the current limit “is not adequate to protect the public health.”
Janet McCabe, an acting assistant EPA administrator, said a stricter standard is needed to cut dangerous ozone pollution and prevent thousands of asthma attacks, emergency room visits and even premature deaths.
A new ozone standard, combined with greenhouse gas reductions mandated by a rule limiting pollution from coal-fired power plants, “will extend the trajectory of the last 40 years when we’ve cut air pollution 70 percent — all while our economy has tripled,” McCabe said.
Business groups reacted harshly. The National Association of Manufacturers and other groups had lobbied the White House in recent months and spent millions on a TV ad campaign decrying the pending ozone rule as an overreach and a job killer.
“We know that this regulation could have been worse, but it still feels like a punch in the gut,” said Tom Riordan, president and CEO of the Wisconsin-based Neenah Enterprises Inc. and task force leader for the manufacturers group.
“Manufacturers are tough and resilient, but when Washington puts politics above job creation, we still pay a price,” Riordan said in a statement.
Manufacturers across the country, especially smaller companies, “will be forced to choose between navigating this rule and hiring new workers, between complying with Washington’s mandates and giving raises to their employees,” he said.