The Obama administration’s proposal sets a primary standard for ground-level ozone of no more than 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million, to be phased in over two decades. Regions with the worst smog pollution, including much of the Northeast, Southern and Central California and the Chicago and Houston areas, would have more time than other areas to come into compliance [The New York Times]. The previous standard was 0.075 parts per million, set in 2008 despite government scientists’ objection that it was not strict enough. Smog is formed when a stew of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and methane is baked in sunlight.
The new standard won’t be cheap, but proponents say it will save money, and lives, in the long run. The EPA estimates that by 2020 the proposal will cost $19 billion to $90 billion to implement and will yield health benefits worth $13 billion to $100 billion. The proposal would result in 1,500 to 12,000 avoided premature deaths by 2020, though the precise number depends on what limit the agency adopts [Washington Post]. Smog is linked to a wide variety of heart and respiratory diseases. Currently, a majority of the counties that are required to monitor ozone levels would not meet the new standard. If the 0.070 limit is adopted, 515 of the 675 counties that monitor ozone levels would be out of compliance.
Factories, oil and gas refineries, and power companies would be required to clean up their acts. “Coal-burning power plants are the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” John Walke, a clean air lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said about the industry that could get hit hardest. He said airplanes, ships, locomotives and off-road vehicles would also be targeted, perhaps more than automobiles, which have had to cut pollution since the 1970s [Reuters].
If approved, the new rules wouldn’t be phased in for several years. Whatever limit is selected, by the end of 2013, states must submit plans showing how areas that do not attain the new standard will be brought into compliance. The new rules would be phased in between 2014 and 2031, with deadlines depending on how dirty the air is in a given region [The New York Times]. The EPA will announce the new standard at the end of a 60 period to allow for public comment.
80beats: Asia’s Great Brown Cloud Is Spewed by Millions of Wood-Burning Hearths
80beats: When Laws Save Lives: Cleaner Air Increased Life Expectancy by 5 Months
DISCOVER: The Smoking Torch explains what smog does to an athlete’s lungs
DISCOVER: Air Pollution Linked to Genetic Mutations
DISCOVER: Fetuses Take Air Pollution to Heart
Image: flickr / jonlclark