EPA Has New, Tougher Smog Standard; California Can’t Meet the Old One

Friday, October 02, 2015
U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said the tougher air pollution standard announced Thursday will benefit healthy, exercising adults. Some critics say it will kill around 7,000 less blessed Americans a year than the even tougher standard they advocated.

Both sides will still have a common interest in fending off congressional intervention spurred on by business interests, some of whom who would prefer no standard at all. The effect on California could be profound.

The new anti-smog rule lowers the ground-level ozone limit from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70. Health advocates and environmentalists pushed for 60 ppb. In the early years of the Obama administration, McCarthy’s predecessor, Lisa Jackson, advocated for 65 ppb.

The government says the new rule will save 660 lives and prevent 230,000 asthma attacks a year by 2025 at a cost of $1.4 billion to business and motorists. It will also save $2.9 billion to $5.9 billion a year in health care and other benefits.

Failure to meet the new standard can cost a state its U.S. highway funds. California already has pretty aggressive air pollution measures in place, but they have to. The air is still the worst in the nation and the state already gets a break on deadlines for achieving improvement.

The new rules will be the subject of congressional hearings. U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), widely expected to become the next speaker of the House, said the standard will “be impossible for communities like the Central Valley to reach.” Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) wanted a tougher one.

Smog standards have always met resistance from business interests who deem them job killers and too tough to implement. California and the nation have cut smog to a third of what it was in the 1980s by ignoring them.

While everyone else in the country is striving to meet the standard in 10 years, the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles basin have until 2037. The valley missed the current standard 73 times so far this year, and the L.A. region exceeded the limit 81 times. The EPA expects that outside of California, only 14 counties in the nation will not meet the standard in 2025.

Southern California is still struggling to reach 80 ppb by 2023 and 75 by 2031.

The expensive, special mixture of gasoline that California conjures up, the catalytic converters that the state led the way on and mandatory auto smog checks have barely kept the rest of California in range of the current 75 ppb standard, set in 2008 by the Bush administration.

“All the low-hanging fruit is gone,” Eric Stevenson at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco told the San Jose Mercury News.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

New EPA Smog Rules Will Help You Breathe Easier but at a Price (by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News)

President Obama Should Do Better than EPA Standard That Fails to Protect Americans from Harmful Smog Levels (by John Walke, National Resources Defense Council blog)

New Federal EPA Smog Standard Angers Both Sides of the Issue (by Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times)

EPA Sets More Stringent Smog Rules but Still Disappoints Environmentalists (by Jed Kim, KPCC)

Obama Sides with Manufacturers in Blocking Stricter Smog Standards (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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