Ozone regulations fall short of CUER, CUNY students recommendations

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized new ground-level ozone regulations October 1, bringing the standard closer to what is necessary to protect human health, but still to weak in the eyes of many environmental and public health advocates.

As part of CUNY’s Spring 2015 Public Institutions in Context course, taught by CUER Director Rebecca Bratspies, students submitted public comments to the EPA regarding the then-proposed regulations.

For background, the Clean Air Act mandates that the EPA set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six main pollutants, including ground-level ozone. Once set, States must create State Implementation Plans, setting forth how they will come into compliance.

First released in 1971, the EPA issued revised regulations in 1997 and again in 2008, when the Bush Administration set the standard  at 75 parts per parts per-billion, a standard universally condemned by environmentalists as too weak to protect the public health.

In response, the Obama Administration proposed updated regulations in 2010, which it unfortunately scrapped prior to the 2012 election. A coalition of environmental advocates took the Obama Administration to court, prompting an federal appellate court decision setting deadlines for the EPA to propose and finalize revised standards.

In December 2014, the EPA proposed a standard of between 65 and 70 ppb, eventually finalizing on the less stringent 70 ppb standard.

However, CUER, in ozone comments submitted by Professor Bratspies, pushed for a 60 ppb, which was the standard recommended by the EPA’s own Clean Air Act Advisory Committee.

Thomas Power XXX 3L or a 2015 graduate? XXX took issue with the EPA’s contention, responding to the Advisory Committee’s recommendation, that the 60 ppb standard inappropriately places very little weight on uncertainties in the health effect evidence and exposure/risk information.” Specifically, Power argue that the CAA forces the EPA to provide protection beyond what is required by strictly the scientific consensus.

“The requirement of the CAA…that the primary standards provide an adequate margin of safety, was intended to address the uncertainties surrounding inconsistent scientific and technical information available at the time,” Power wrote.

Current 3L Marcella Marucci, in her public comments, argued the lower standard is necessary to protect communities disproportionately harmed by air pollution, including children, the elderly and environmental justice communities, referring to communities largely comprised of low-income individuals and people of color.

Further, Marucci criticized the EPA’s apparent cost concerns arising from its disapproval of a 60 ppb standard, noting that industries traditionally inflate such implementation and compliance costs and that the Supreme Court’s 2001 American Trucking decision already made clear that cost concerns are irrelevant when promulgating the NAAAQS.

3L  Pauline Shomonnedzad, in her comments, detailed how even within the cost-benefit analysis framework, the argument for the lower standard is overwhelmingly persuasive, especially when considering the impact of premature deaths, asthma-related medical visits and other costs associated with air pollution.