Air Pollution

Greenwire's Peterka discusses future of ozone rule after EPA hearings

Following its November proposal to tighten federal ozone standards, U.S. EPA began a series of three public hearings on the plan yesterday. How contentious were the discussions, and what impact could the comments have on EPA's final proposal, which is expected later this year? On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Amanda Peterka discusses expectations for the final rule.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. EPA held two public hearings yesterday on its proposed ozone standards, and Greenwire reporter Amanda Peterka was at the Washington, D.C., meeting. Amanda, how contentious did things get in the room, and what were the primary arguments you heard against the proposal?

Amanda Peterka: Right. Well, the D.C. hearing was actually rather civil so, you know, may be disappointing from a news standpoint, but there were a good number of both proponents and opponents of EPA's proposal there. EPA had two panels spread out through two rooms, and members of the public and of interest groups had a few minutes each to speak to EPA. EPA didn't actually respond to any of the comments, but they listened and they jotted down notes for several hours yesterday.

The primary arguments yesterday -- well, as you know, EPA has proposed to tighten the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion down between 65 and 70 parts per billion. And the arguments centered around whether the science justified EPA's proposed range. And I thought it was kind of interesting. You heard the science argument from both sides of the debate, both opponents of EPA tightening the standard and those who wanted to see a lower standard. Those industry groups opposed to it said that the science justified EPA leaving the standard at 75, while environmental and public health groups said that EPA needed to set it at no higher than 60 based on the science.

Monica Trauzzi: And you were telling me that the Sierra Club was not able to be as vocal as they were hoping for because of the weather. What were the ...

Amanda Peterka: I had talked to a couple Sierra Club folks, and they seemed like they had wanted to do demonstrations but the weather was just a little too cold in D.C. yesterday. It was about 30 degrees. So they are -- environmental groups are planning bigger demonstrations in California on Monday when EPA holds its third hearing. But you still saw some people dressed in, you know, I heart clean air shirts and there were, you know, there was some activity and a big cardboard inhaler there too as well.

Monica Trauzzi: So why is this rule so important to the various stakeholders and how are they preparing for once this rule hits?

Amanda Peterka: Right. Well, this rule is particularly important because ozone is such a widespread pollutant throughout the United States, so you'll have many areas of the country from the West Coast to the East Coast dealing with ozone issues. It is a big deal because you have this sort of trade-off where, if EPA tightens the standard, you'll invariably have cleaner air, but if -- you know, at the same time, you'll have more costs for industry to put in place pollution controls, and states that do not meet the new standard will have to write -- will have to develop and put in place plans that lead to less ozone pollution.

Monica Trauzzi: So the final rule is expected in October. What happens in the interim? What is EPA considering as it works towards that final rule?

Amanda Peterka: Well, EPA, like I said, is holding a hearing on Monday in California, so that comes first. And then there is a public common period that runs until March 17, so until that point, you know, stakeholders, interested parties will be shaping their comments. Then EPA will have a few months where it's just reading over all the comments, probably get thousands in this rulemaking since it is so big. And then EPA has a court-ordered deadline to get it out in October, and what it will be considering as it works toward that is, again, looking at the public health data and seeing where the science says it should set the standard. There has been a lot of concerns raised about costs, but under the Clean Air Act, EPA is not supposed to look at cost when it sets an initial standard, only at the public health data. And then considerations of cost will come later in the implementation period.

Monica Trauzzi: Any action expected from Congress on this? There was some movement in Senate EPW at the end of last year.

Amanda Peterka: Right. Senate -- the Democrats in Senate EPW held a hearing on ozone and EPA's proposal, but this year I expect to see hearings. I expect to see both committees in the House and the Senate Environment and Public Works and Energy and Commerce hold hearings and oversight. And then I also expect to see pieces of legislation in both the House and Senate that address ozone specifically. Like last year you had a bill that would have limited EPA's ability to set a new standard until the majority of the country had met the old 2008 standard. So I expect to see things like that come up and maybe some bills that require EPA to consider cost in its analysis.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Interesting stuff. Thanks for coming on the show.

Amanda Peterka: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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