Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) plan to send a letter to U.S. EPA today questioning the agency's decision to reconsider -- and probably tighten -- the federal ozone standard that was updated by the George W. Bush administration two years ago.
The letter, which circulated around Capitol Hill in draft form, criticizes the Obama administration for moving toward tighter standards despite working with the "same basic body of information that existed in 2008." Still-tougher federal limits on ozone, which contributes to respiratory problems and outdoor haze, will impose excessive costs on industry and make hundreds of counties fall short of federal air requirements, it says.
"Given the absence of new or different scientific data, EPA should maintain the current ozone standards," the letter says. "Moving to change the standard again, outside of the Clean Air Act's normal five-year review process, as local communities are struggling to meet the existing standard, would be unfair and unwise."
Bayh spokesman Brian Weiss said the letter has also been signed by Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
A similar letter was floated last month by Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both Georgia Republicans. Another letter was sent to EPA this week by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), who is the heavy favorite to win the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Robert Byrd (D).
The fact that moderate Democrats like Bayh are openly criticizing the agency's ozone work has alarmed environmental and public health groups, which fear that Congress could move to scale back federal air quality standards.
Frank O'Donnell, president of advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said he is worried that the Senate could target EPA with an appropriations rider, disapproval resolution or some other measure. Last month, a House appropriations subcommittee broke along party lines and voted down a proposed amendment from Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) that would have barred EPA from directing any funds toward its review of the 2008 ozone standard (E&E Daily, July 23).
"We're very much concerned that another attempt could be made, in either the House or the Senate, to do the same thing," O'Donnell said. "In this case, the idea that there's already a Democrat on board makes it all the more dangerous."
When the Bush administration reviewed the standards, EPA scientists suggested lowering the airborne ozone limit from 85 parts per billion to between 60 and 70 ppb. The agency chose to set the standard at 75 ppb.
Under the Obama administration, EPA released a proposal in January to set the standard between 60 and 70 ppb (Greenwire, Jan. 7).
A final rule is expected to be released by the end of August.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, described the Bayh-Voinovich letter as "disingenuous," saying it is unreasonable to ask the Obama administration to wait for a new scientific review when it was the Bush-era EPA that ignored the advice of agency scientists. Becker said his group, which represents the state agencies that would need to enforce the tougher ozone standard, supports the tightened rule because it follows the advice of agency scientists.
Industry groups have questioned the value of the revision, pointing out that at least one member of the scientific advisory committee felt the Obama administration's proposed standard was not justified.
In their letter, Bayh and Voinovich say it is also "unacceptable" to revise the standard while states are still in the process of preparing state implementation plans (SIPs) for the 2008 standard.
Because states are still waiting for air monitoring results to come back, they are not working on their SIPs, Becker said. The Obama administration made it clear that it would go beyond the Bush-era standard, he added.
"States are always looking at any additional measures that are necessary to reduce ozone precursors," Becker said, "but no one is wasting their time implementing a standard that the Obama administration indicated a year ago is going to be replaced."
Click here to read the Bayh-Voinovich letter.