EPA Close to Completing Review of Air Quality Standards

July 15, 2020 by Jacob Pederson
(Photo by Dan McCue)

The Environmental Protection Agency is on track to complete a review of air quality standards against a backdrop of ozone concentrations dropping nationwide.

The EPA, by rule, endeavors to complete regular air quality standard reviews within a five-year time frame, but often take much longer to do so.

The review is intended to determine whether the nation’s air is being kept clean under existing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for harmful pollutants like ozone. 

It was after such a review that the Obama administration made standards for ground level ozone more stringent in 2015.

The Trump administration is expected to keep those standards, as ground level ozone levels have dropped appreciably since the stricter standards went into effect.

Ground level ozone comes from factory and automobile emissions reacting with each other in the sunlight. It irritates people’s lungs and can be dangerous to people with asthma, bronchitis, and other breathing disorders.

The concentration of this pollutant has dropped 4% since 2017. In that time, 13 areas nationwide that previously weren’t meeting air quality standards for ozone have come into compliance with the standards.

“Under President Trump, the U.S. has made significant progress in reducing ozone concentrations across the nation,”  EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “Based on a review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisors, we are proposing to retain existing ozone standards which will ensure the continued protection of both public health and the environment.”

Part of the reason for this faster timeline is President Trump’s “Back-to-the-Basics” memo signed by the EPA in 2018. The goal was to iron out inefficiencies in the scientific reviews, improve coordination, and transparency to have the review completed by late 2020.

The memo contends that taking longer than five years to complete the review “results in uncertainty as well as lost opportunities for implementing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect the environment in a manner compatible with a robust American economy.”

The memo also states that if the EPA can complete its review by its deadline in October, the agency will use the same streamlined strategy devised under the Trump Administration for future reviews.

“This is a needed departure from the previous administration’s failure to meet statutory deadlines, often taking twice as long to promulgate updated standards,” the agency said in a statement.

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