U.S. EPA plans to enforce smog rules that were put in place under George W. Bush, now that President Obama has asked the agency to wait until 2013 to move on still-stricter air quality standards for ozone, Administrator Lisa Jackson told lawmakers on Capitol Hill this morning.
Jackson had spent the past two years reconsidering the limit of 75 parts per billion, which was finalized in 2008, because it was higher than the range of 60 to 70 ppb recommended by the agency's science advisers.
Her recommendation was 70 ppb, she told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning, in her first public disclosure of EPA's final proposal to the White House.
But now that Obama has stopped the reconsideration, based on concerns that the rule could hold back the struggling economy, the entire country is legally required to ratchet down air pollution limits from the previous standard of 84 ppb, Jackson told members of the committee. Air quality officials will be given new instructions in the days ahead, she said.
"We will do it in a common-sense way, minimizing the burden on state and local governments," Jackson testified before the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
The rules would not require any pollution cuts for several more years, but in the meantime, regulators would be busy collecting data and reviewing plans for bringing the whole country into compliance. Their work could be irrelevant if the rule is thrown out in federal court or if a stricter standard is issued in 2013, but there is no guarantee that would happen -- especially if a Republican wins the White House.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said turning to the 2008 standard is better than reverting to the "outdated and nonprotective" standard that preceded it.
"While we know an accelerated timeframe may be challenging for some areas, it is extremely important that the agency proceed with the more protective health based standard," Becker said.
EPA's ongoing review of the ozone standards is still taking fire from EPA's critics in Congress. Under the "TRAIN Act," which is set for a vote on the House floor later this week, new ozone standards would not be allowed to move forward until a new interagency commission finishes a report on their cost.
And an amendment, put forward by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), would overturn a 2001 Supreme Court decision and allow EPA to consider economic factors as well as public health when setting the standards.
Jackson has said that the 2008 standards are "not legally defensible" because there is evidence that smog causes asthma attacks and other health problems at levels below 75 ppb.
During today's hearing, members of the committee quizzed Jackson about Obama's decision on the ozone standards, but Jackson deferred to the White House's judgment.
"I respected the decision and I implemented it," Jackson told subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) when asked if she disagreed with the president. "I don't think it's a secret that the recommendation we sent over -- the package we sent over -- was something different."