U.S. Senate to Oversee EPA Smog Rule Rewrite

WASHINGTON, DC, January 2, 2007 (ENS) - When the new Congress convenes on January 4, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will "scrutinize" the EPA’s approach to clean air "to ensure that the health of our families is protected," says Senator Barbara Boxer of California, a Democrat who will chair the committee.

Commenting on last month's decision by the DC Court of Appeals to reject the U.S. EPA’s 2004 smog rule, Boxer said, “I am pleased that the Court of Appeals has seen through EPA’s transparent attempts to weaken implementation of the Clean Air Act’s rules for smog. This unanimous opinion from the Court of Appeals confirms that EPA’s approach is illegal. EPA must now throw out this rule and start anew."


Rush hour traffic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which has not attained the federal clean air standard. (Photo courtesy DART)
The three judge panel ruled on December 22, 2006 that some of the EPA's ozone requirements are too weak to conform with the Clean Air Act, and that the agency has been illegally exercising its discretion contrary to the intent of Congress.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by seven state governments, the District of Columbia, environmental groups, and California's South Coast Air Quality Management District.

"Because of the efforts of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which brought this case, our citizens will not be forced to accept EPA’s plans to relax the smog rules," Boxer said. "Smog kills people, it increases asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and it remains a major public health threat in many areas of the country."


Barbara Boxer was seated in the U.S. Senate in January 1993 after 10 years in the House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
The day before the appeals court ruling was handed down, Boxer and six other Democratic members of the committee wrote to U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson opposing the agency's recent changes in the approach to setting the health-based standards under the Clean Air Act.

For decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the senators wrote, the EPA set clean air standards by soliciting expert advice from leading independent scientists, and developing scientific analyses in consultation with independent experts on the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, CASAC.

"Now, apparently relying upon recommendations from the American Petroleum Institute," the senators wrote, "the agency has taken a dangerous turn. Instead of objectively basing standards on the CASAC review, EPA scientists’ staff paper, and the best available science, EPA’s new approach will inject politics into the entire decision-making process."


Stephen Johnson was appointed EPA administrator in May 2005 after more than 20 years with the agency in other roles. (Photo courtesy Office of the Administrator)
"EPA political appointees and, potentially White House staff, will play a crucial early role in shaping the scientific record and technical review," the senators wrote. "CASAC’s expert scientific analysis will now be put on a par with that of special interest advocates."

"We ask that you abandon these changes and provide us with a detailed explanation prior to making any alterations to the longstanding process," wrote the senators.

Administrator Johnson has not issued a response to the senators' letter.

The committee was chaired in the previous Congress by Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma. In September, Inhofe introduced amendments to the Clean Air Act that would have strengthened penalties on major emission sources in the most polluted areas of the country that fail to meet clean air standards by the attainment deadlines.

The Inhofe amendments would have applied to areas that have not attained the EPA standards both for small particulates and for ground level ozone.

But the Inhofe amendments were not enacted, and now the appeals court has ordered the EPA to rewrite the entire smog rule.