President Obama announced earlier this month that he will not seek to impose stricter air quality standards than those currently set by the Clean Air Act. Standards for smog (scientifically referred to as ground-level ozone) are currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb), as a result of a 2008 decision. This decision went against the recommendation of an independent panel of scientists and experts, who recommended the standards be set at 60 to 70 ppb.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks to overturn the current standards and enact stricter standards, but President Obama has said he will not support this move, in an apparently politicized effort to side with the pollutant industry and assuage their economic concerns. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson decries these standards as legally and scientifically indefensible.
The independent panel, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, reviewed environmental and smog data in 2010, and came to the same conclusion: that the standard should be tightened to between 60 and 70 ppb. If agreed upon, this stricter mandate would take effect in 2016, allowing industries ample time to consider how they will reduce emissions.
The current standards have been challenged in court by the American Lung Association, the National Resources Defense Council, and several states, but as a result of the president’s decision, the EPA will have to defend the existing poor standards against health and environmental groups who seek the same public health quality as the EPA.
The effects of smog, a gas created when chemicals emitted from vehicles react with sunlight, vary individually, with some people naturally being more sensitive to the gaseous pollutant. Children, the elderly and people with existing respiratory problems, such as asthma, suffer the highest risk of being affected by smog pollution. Studies have shown that people who inhale concentrations of smog higher than the standard of 75 ppb experience decreased lung function and increased respiratory diseases. Smog also contributes to agricultural damage, resulting in a loss of about $500 million in crops every year. Scientists haven’t pinpointed an exact ideal smog level, but setting the standards continually lower would positively affect public health and safety.
A smog level of 60 ppb would prevent an additional 5,300 heart attacks; 58,000 asthma attacks; and 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths per year. Levels of 70 ppb would have less positive effects, but would prevent 2,200 heart attacks; 23,000 asthma attacks; and 1,500 to 4,300 premature deaths.
The Clean Air Act was first passed during the Nixon administration in 1970, and its contributions to public health over the past four decades include an avoidance of 700,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, prevention of 200,000 premature deaths, and a 41 percent decline in overall emissions. Additionally, the Clean Air Act is estimated to prevent 230,000 early deaths by the year 2020 and reduce cases of asthma, missed school or work days, infant mortality and heart disease. Amendments to the Act made in 1990 cost $65 billion to implement, but are expected to produce $2 trillion in economic benefits by 2020.
A recent Time Magazine article reported that seven of the United States’ worst-polluted cities are in California, as ranked by the World Health Organization. Of these seven cities, four are in notoriously smog-affected southern California, with Bakersfield taking the number one spot. Fortunately, smog levels have declined in the past 40 years as a result of mandates in the Clean Air Act; unfortunately, these levels still haven’t fallen low enough to be considered safe.
Provisions in the Clean Air Act require its amendments to be revisited at least every five years, meaning that even if amendments do not take place this year, a review of current standards is scheduled for 2013.
Persuade the president to reconsider his decision to support Big Oil and to make this country’s air quality safer and cleaner for everyone. Sign this petition letter at ForceChange.com to make your voice heard!
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/thewazir/4501582495/