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Earthjustice Weighs in on EPA's Ozone Standards

Group supports the agency's strong stance protecting public health
February 13, 2002
Washington, DC —

Earthjustice today expressed support for the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed decision not to weaken key air quality standards for ozone. In official comments to the agency, Earthjustice -- on behalf of its client American Lung Association -- emphasized that the decision proposed by the agency last November is a victory for public health and should be finalized quickly. EPA's proposal found a lack of scientific support for industry claims that ground-level ozone -- or smog -- is beneficial to humans and protects them from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The finding that it would be inappropriate to weaken the 1997 standards came in EPA's long-awaited proposed response to a May 1999 court-ordered remand in American Trucking v. USEPA, a case in which industry launched a multi-pronged challenge to the 1997 smog standards.

"Industry's efforts to confuse Americans into treating smog like sun block is yet another dodge by polluters who don't want to clean up," said Howard Fox of Earthjustice, which represents American Lung Association in the case. "To protect the lungs of asthmatics and other vulnerable people, EPA's job is -- as Shakespeare might have put it -- to bury smog, not to praise it. The agency should move promptly to finalize its rejection of industry's ridiculous attempts to spruce up smog's image."

At issue are the 1997 national air quality standards for ozone. According to EPA estimates, these standards, once implemented, will prevent tens of thousands of occurrences of respiratory symptoms such as painful breathing, reductions of lung function, and asthma attacks -- as well as many hospital admissions and emergency room visits. During EPA's deliberations on the 1997 standards, industry argued that controlling ground-level ozone -- also known as tropospheric ozone -- could actually harm public health by allowing more ultraviolet B sunlight to reach earth. In the 1999 American Trucking decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit directed EPA to consider the issue, although the court expressed no opinion on what conclusion the agency should reach.

EPA's proposed response was published in November 2001. Today marked the end of a 90-day public comment period on the proposal. The agency may be planning to take substantial additional time before releasing a final decision. Today's comments urge EPA to finalize its decision quickly so that people can begin to reap the benefits of these key public health safeguards.

"EPA officials have been tangling with this issue for more than two and a half years now," cautioned Fox. "It's great that they've finally begun to move forward. We hope they won't delay in finalizing their decision, and that Americans will soon enjoy stronger protections against smog."

Read the comments filed on behalf of the American Lung Association by clicking "Related Legal Documents" below.


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Suzanne Carrier

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About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.