Health advocates and environmental groups are urging federal officials to adopt stricter limits on ozone, while an industry group argued taking that step would needlessly hamper manufacturing.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the threshold for ground-level ozone, or smog, from the current 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 parts per billion. The agency held public hearings in Washington, D.C., Arlington, Texas and Sacramento, California in recent days on potentially lowering the cap to as little as 60 parts per billion.
The EPA faces a court-issued deadline of October to issue a final decision, and the agency said most states would be able to complete the full implementation within ten years.
Parts of California, however, already deal with smog levels well in excess of the current limit, which was established under the administration of President George W. Bush. Areas near Los Angeles averaged 107 parts per billion, while the San Joaquin Valley in the central part of the state averaged 94 parts per billion; those areas would have until 2037 to comply with new standards.
"Under the current standard, people don't have a good idea of when they are putting their health at risk simply by going for an afternoon jog or showing up for soccer practice," Adenike Adeyeye, an analyst in the San Francisco office of law firm Earthjustice, told the Sacramento hearing this week.
Last week, Dallas physician Robert Haley, representing the Dallas County Medical Society and the Texas Medical Association, told the Arlington hearing that citizens of northern Texas -- where the average ozone level was 81 parts per billion -- "are paying a high price for ozone pollution that could potentially be avoided," citing "asthma attacks, respiratory failure, hospitalizations and premature deaths."
David Brymer, air quality director for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, countered his agency found little or no evidence of harm to those residence, arguing reducing the current standard would not alleviate those health issues.
That same day, Lorraine Gershman of the American Chemistry Council told officials in Washington that the current standard is "the most stringent ever and has not been fully implemented across the United States," and that areas currently classified as non-compliant with the standard -- where 120 million people reside -- face substantial economic obstacles.
"Industry located in a nonattainment area face increased operating costs, permitting delays, and restrictions on building or expanding facilities," Gershman said. "These challenges increase 'time to market' for innovative new products."
Another ACC representative, Lindsay Stovall, told the Sacramento hearing that reducing the standard could cause manufacturing growth to "slow or stop."
Although the Obama administration called the reduction another step toward "protecting Americans' health and the climate," Republican congressional leaders have signaled they'll look to rein in what they describe as another example of the White House's "regulatory onslaught."