The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday stricter standards for ground-level ozone pollution.
Based on the review of more than 2,300 scientific studies, the EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from 75 ppb in an effort to reduce Americans’ exposure to ozone and improve public health.
Ground-level ozone, or smog, forms when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in the air.
“Put simply – ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable: Our kids, our elderly and those suffering from heart and lung ailments,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator. “Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people. (Thursday’s) action is one of the most important measures we can take for improving public health, reducing the costs of illness and protecting our children’s health.”
According to the EPA, these revised standards will result in fewer premature deaths and thousands fewer asthma attacks and missed school or work days, saving up to $5.9 billion annually by 2025.
Tom Kuhn, president of Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, issued a statement following the EPA’s announcement, saying the association is still reviewing the new NAAQS.
“The electric power sector has made great progress in reducing the environmental impact of electricity generation, cutting sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 80 percent and nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by 74 percent since 1990, even as demand for electricity has increased,” said Kuhn.
Since 1980, the EPA reports the nation’s average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. By 2025, the EPA posits existing ozone-reduction and emissions-cutting programs will bring the vast majority of the country into compliance.
“While we are still reviewing the final standard, EEI advocated throughout the rulemaking process that, should a new ozone standard be set, it should be at the top end of the proposed range at 70 ppb,” said Kuhn. “While compliance challenges remain with the new standard at 70 ppb, EPA has recognized the serious implementation concerns raised by stakeholders of setting the standard below 70 ppb.”
The EPA received more than 430,000 written comments on the proposed standards and held three public hearings before finalizing the NAAQS.
“EEI will continue to work with our members, the states and affected customers to determine how compliance with the new ozone standard will impact the implementation of other major EPA regulations, including the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), and, importantly, the recently-finalized Clean Power Plan,” said Kuhn.