Washington D.C. – The Environment Subcommittee today held a hearing to examine the EPA’s upcoming review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. As directed by the Clean Air Act, the EPA reviews and sets standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment every five years. During the last review in 2008, the ozone standard was set at 75 parts per billion.

Even though precursor emissions for ozone have decreased by 50 percent over the last 30 years, and states have yet to begin implementing the 2008 ozone standards, the EPA is considering lowering ozone standards to 60 parts per billion. Witnesses said such new standards would set the NAAQS either at, or below, naturally occurring background levels in many parts of the country.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “The effects could be devastating.  Looking at EPA’s monitoring data, we see that if EPA lowers the ozone standards to 60 parts per billion, over 90 percent of the U.S. population could live or work in a nonattainment area. Many communities still struggle to meet the standards that were set in 2008.  In these tough economic times, tighter regulations would put an additional burden on the backs of hard-working American families.”

Witnesses highlighted recent data that suggests areas in virtually every state would violate the proposed new standards. Furthermore, EPA has estimated that the new standards could cost $90 billion annually.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “The result leaves little room for states like Utah to demonstrate compliance with the Clean Air Act, and the consequences include draconian reduction requirements, severe economic sanctions, threats to highway funding, and construction bans.  EPA claims that there are flexibilities within Clean Air Act implementation that could resolve some concerns about compliance due to exceptional events or international emissions. However, the Agency’s track record on approving state applications under these provisions leaves little room for comfort.” 

Witnesses agreed that if EPA tightens the current ozone standard, many parts of the country will be unable to meet the new limit due to naturally-occurring or uncontrollable ozone.

The following witnesses testified at the hearing:

Ms. Amanda Smith, Executive Director, Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Mr. Samuel Oltmans, Senior Research Associate, Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, and Earth System Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division
Dr. Russell Dickerson, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, University of Maryland
Mr. Jeffrey Holmstead, Partner, Bracewell & Giiuliani LLP
Dr. John Vandenberg, Director, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina Division, National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency