EPA Erodes Scientific Process for NAAQS Reviews, 12-7-06

Statement from John L. Kirkwood, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Lung Association

December 7, 2006.  New York, NY.  The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today an unprecedented decision to seriously weaken the process for determining the level of air pollution that is safe to breathe.  The American Lung Association urges EPA to reconsider this flawed decision and restore the process that has worked for over 30 years. 

EPA announced today that it will jettison the scientific review process that it has used to analyze the health effects of six key air pollutants recognized since 1970 as the most dangerous and widespread: ozone, particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.  For the past 30 years, EPA engaged both a panel of independent experts and its own staff scientists to review the research to determine the safe limits of these pollutants in the air. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set the limits, called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, at levels that protect public health with “an adequate margin of safety.”   

The process has been deliberative and, indeed, often much too slow—most often plagued by EPA’s failure to start the reviews on time. However, the process was akin to the peer-review expected in science: an open, thorough, deliberative, back-and-forth evaluation of vital public health issues.  As a result, EPA received a reasoned consensus assessment of what the science knew at the time and could set standards to appropriately limit the levels of those pollutants.
The national air quality standards matter. They tell us when the air is officially safe to breathe. The standards are the goals that each county and state must meet, so they drive nearly every effort nationwide to clean up air pollution.

During the most recent review of particulate matter, the EPA Administrator chose to ignore the consensus recommendations of both the outside scientists and the EPA staff scientists for more protective national air quality standards.  Now the Administrator appears to have decided to simply game the process to avoid the possibility of getting an answer he does not want to hear.