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New Ozone Regulations vs Republican War on Science

Republicans have been waging a war against public health regulations in the United States for longer than I’ve been alive. One of the latest worrisome developments in this trend is the push-back from many conservative states, Texas among them, against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standards regarding ground-level ozone, otherwise known as smog.

When the last revision of ozone standards was completed in 2008, the standard, at 75 parts per billion (ppb), was set to allow much higher levels of pollution than many environmental and public safety groups felt was necessary to protect the public well-being. The panel in charge of advising the EPA on the new standard, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), unanimously recommended a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. However, the Administrator of the EPA at the time was appointed by President Bush, served conservative interests, and chose to adopt 75 ppb instead.

Now, thankfully, under the new regulations finalized in October of 2015, states will have to meet a standard of 70 ppb after the CASAC again recommended a standard between 60 and 70 ppb. With the difficult political climate right now, it’s clear the EPA believed that adopting the least aggressive option while still improving public health would meet with the least resistance. However, it has met considerable resistance from the current Congress, as 10 bills have been introduced attempting to delay the implementation of these standards, with some bills even attempting to prohibit funding the EPA.

The estimated cost of implementing the new 70 ppb standard is $1.4 billion, whereas choosing a standard of 65 ppb would have raised the cost of implementation to $16 billion. States have until 2020 to reach 70 ppb, with the most polluted areas allowed as long until 2037 to reach attainment. This should be a win for Republicans, so it’s difficult to understand the current rhetoric being thrown around by those who are objecting to the new standard. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed in a press release “The EPA’s new ozone rule is not supported by scientific data” and then went on to complain that it will require “costly new regulations that will harm our economy and kill jobs.”

These are ridiculous assertions. Here’s why:

Firstly, a brief outline of the process for reviewing Ozone NAAQS (standards) should be enough to refute the claim that there is no science behind the rule: Federal EPA scientists reviewed 2,300 scientific studies to complete the preliminary Integrated Science Assessment. After the EPA prepared a Risk and Exposure Assessment to identify at-risk populations and health impacts, a Policy Assessment summarized the information in the previous two documents and provide the EPA Administrator with policy options.

Then, as required under the Clean Air Act, an independent scientific advisory panel, the CASAC, was formed to review the entire process. The panel members are generally from academia and private research institutions. Leading experts on health and environmental effects of specific pollutants are then regularly called in to supplement the panel’s considerable scientific knowledge.

Secondly, the health benefits were estimated between $2.9 billion and $5.9 billion, clearly outweighing the $1.4 billion cost. The projected health benefits come in the form of less heart and lung diseases and a reduction in premature deaths. Most notably, 320 to 660 premature deaths could be avoided with adoption of these new regulations, which account for 94 to 98 percent of the EPA’s total monetized benefits of the new standards.

child_inhalerUnder the new standards we can prevent:

• 11,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms

• 230,000 cases of exacerbated asthma

• 188,000 days when people miss school or work from illness related to smog

• 340 cases of acute bronchitis

• 960 hospital admissions and emergency room visits

To say that these costly regulations will not be worth the benefits is to say that one does not care about or value human life or quality of human life.

Republicans have been fighting for the right to disregard human life, environmental health and EPA regulations for a long time. Most recently, the 112th Congress attempted to pass legislation that would have required the EPA to take costs into consideration when setting standards. As it is now, the EPA is supposed to place public and environmental health above economic costs. The current Congress has again introduced legislation requiring the EPA to take costs into account when setting future standards.

In their 2015 brief on the new Ozone NAAQs, the Congressional Research Service highlights eight of the ten plus bills that have been introduced by the current Congress that attempt to delay or prevent implementation of the new standards. Texas is spearheading the effort to subvert the EPA, with four of the highlighted bills coming from Texas Representatives. All the eight bills are backed by Republicans. North Texas Representative Sam Johnson, introduced legislation that would “provide no funds made available under any act may be used by EPA to implement any ozone standard.” On top of that, Texas is suing the EPA, in an attempt to overturn the new ozone standards.  It is clear that this lawsuit and these many legislative attacks are acts of Republican disbelief in science and disregard for public health.