EPA to Consider Tighter Air Quality Standards for Smog

November 9, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to reconsider federal air quality standards for smog after declining to tighten Obama-era rules in the final weeks of the Trump administration as reported by The Hill on Oct. 29.

The agency, which briefed environmental groups on the matter on Thursday, Oct. 28, followed up with a filing Friday, Oct. 29 in a Washington D.C., district court asking for a suspension of cases over the current standard. In the filing, viewed by The Hill, the agency confirmed it is in the process of reviewing the standard.

“While EPA cannot prejudge the outcome of its reconsideration process, litigating these consolidated cases risks wasting these resources in review of an action that may be mooted, or a record that may be  changed, through a final action that completes the reconsideration process,” the EPA said in the filing.

In December, the EPA said it would retain the existing standard for ozone, the primary component of smog, at 70 parts per billion. Then-EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the 2015 standards would remain in place despite calls from environmental advocates to reduce the standard to 60 ppb at most. They have pointed to ozone’s status as a greenhouse gas, as well as its health hazards at the ground level.

A 2021 report from the American Lung Association indicated that more than 123 million Americans lived with hazardous levels of ozone under the existing standard in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. Eighteen of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities are west of the Mississippi river, and 10 are in California alone. The data comes after a summer that saw extreme temperatures in much of the west and northwest U.S., as well as a worse-than-average wildfire season. In combination with particulate matter, more than 14 million people of color are at risk from ozone pollution, according to the report.

“The most recent science clearly shows that the current ozone standards are simply not strong enough to protect public health, or the crops, forests and ecosystems we depend on,” Marvin Brown, a lead attorney for Earthjustice, one of the groups challenging the existing standards, said in a statement. “Reconsidering the standards is a good first step, and now we urge the Biden administration to strengthen these standards using the best available science and ensure robust community input throughout the process.”