Press Release

State AGs Urge EPA to Protect Public Health and Welfare by Strengthening Air Quality Standards for Ozone

After ‘flawed and hasty process,’ EPA proposed no changes despite clear evidence that more protective standards are needed.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of 14 attor­neys gen­er­al led by New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James sub­mit­ted com­ments today in oppo­si­tion to the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s (EPA) pro­pos­al to retain the exist­ing Nation­al Ambi­ent Air Qual­i­ty Stan­dards (NAAQS) for ozone. The com­ments high­light exten­sive prob­lems with the process by which the EPA reached its deci­sion, which the attor­neys gen­er­al warn fails, giv­en the exist­ing and grow­ing body of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence, to pro­tect pub­lic health of all groups with an ade­quate mar­gin of safe­ty.”

The EPA’s deci­sion to leave in place ozone pol­lu­tion stan­dards that are insuf­fi­cient­ly pro­tec­tive of pub­lic health is, in itself, cause for seri­ous alarm. Worse is that the EPA made this deci­sion with­out the ben­e­fit of inde­pen­dent sci­en­tif­ic input from ozone experts, whom it froze out of the review process,” said David J. Hayes, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter. Trag­i­cal­ly, as state attor­neys gen­er­al have point­ed out, the many dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties that are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly exposed to unhealthy smog will suf­fer as a result. It is not right, and will not go unad­dressed.”

Sub­stan­tive Flaws — The EPA’s pre­vi­ous review of the ozone NAAQS con­clud­ed in 2015, with the agency set­ting both the pri­ma­ry stan­dard (intend­ed to pro­tect pub­lic health) and the sec­ondary stan­dard (intend­ed to pro­tect pub­lic wel­fare) at 70 parts per bil­lion. The attor­neys gen­er­al note that since 2015, ample new data and sci­en­tif­ic research has emerged on the neg­a­tive impacts of ozone,” which include adverse car­dio­vas­cu­lar effects, repro­duc­tive and devel­op­men­tal effects, and ner­vous sys­tem effects.” There is also grow­ing evi­dence of a like­ly causal rela­tion­ship between short-term ozone expo­sure and meta­bol­ic effects, such as meta­bol­ic syn­drome, dia­betes, and meta­bol­ic dis­ease mor­tal­i­ty.”

The EPA’s pro­pos­al to leave the stan­dards unchanged will be par­tic­u­lar­ly harm­ful to envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice com­mu­ni­ties, who bear a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den of the pub­lic health impacts of ozone pol­lu­tion. The attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size that their states have an inter­est in pro­tect­ing minor­i­ty, low-income and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties from the dis­parate impacts of air pol­lu­tion, but are unable to do so with­out reli­able stan­dards in place.”

Pro­ce­dur­al Flaws — Begin­ning in 2017, the EPA inject­ed sev­er­al changes to the NAAQS review process, under­min­ing the sci­en­tif­ic cred­i­bil­i­ty” of the agency’s analy­sis by arbi­trar­i­ly exclud­ing sci­en­tif­ic experts, trun­cat­ing and elim­i­nat­ing impor­tant steps, reduc­ing trans­paren­cy and cur­tail­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for pub­lic input. Notably, the EPA broke from pre­vi­ous reviews by declin­ing to con­vene an Ozone Review Pan­el, and instead rely­ing sole­ly on the find­ings of the Clean Air Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee (CASAC) — a body that the attor­neys gen­er­al note lacks the nec­es­sary exper­tise to mean­ing­ful­ly review and pro­vide advice” on the sub­ject. The CASAC has itself been hob­bled by a con­tro­ver­sial direc­tive that barred sci­en­tists who receive EPA grant fund­ing from serv­ing on the agency’s advi­so­ry com­mit­tees — a direc­tive that was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Cir­cuit ear­li­er this year.

The attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size that the EPA failed to pro­vide any rea­soned expla­na­tion — or any expla­na­tion at all — for the changes to the review process,” which col­lec­tive­ly ren­der the agency’s pro­pos­al to retain the exist­ing stan­dards arbi­trary and capri­cious. With respect to the pri­ma­ry stan­dard in par­tic­u­lar, the attor­neys gen­er­al warn that the EPA failed to apply the cor­rect method­olog­i­cal approach, improp­er­ly dis­count­ed or flat­ly ignored a wealth of evi­dence demon­strat­ing that a more strin­gent pri­ma­ry stan­dard is nec­es­sary, and failed to pro­vide the type of rea­soned expla­na­tion for its deci­sion-mak­ing that is required by law.”

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Cal­i­for­nia, Con­necti­cut, Illi­nois, Mary­land, Mass­a­chu­setts, New Jer­sey, Ore­gon, Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Island, Ver­mont, Wash­ing­ton, Wis­con­sin and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., along with the Cor­po­ra­tion Coun­sel of the City of New York, joined AG James in sub­mit­ting the comments.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.