Who’s Right on Smog and Clean Air Standards? Obama or His EPA?

In September, President Obama announced that his administration would not adopt the new ozone standard recommended by EPA after a two-year review of the 2008 Bush administration standard.

EPA head Lisa Jackson had been pushing hard for the updated standard to replace the 2008 model, which the American Lung Association says “failed to protect public health, failed to follow the scientific community’s recommendations, and was legally indefensible.”

Ground-level ozone is a primary component in the creation of smog.  As we note on the Air Quality facts page at AirQualityAction.org, people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active can be affected when ozone levels are unhealthy. Numerous scientific studies have linked ground-level ozone exposure to a variety of problems, including:

  • Airway irritation, coughing, and pain when taking a deep breath
  • Wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities
  • Inflammation, which is much like a sunburn on the skin
  • Aggravation of asthma and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis
  • Permanent lung damage with repeated exposures.

Healthy people also experience difficulty in breathing when exposed to ozone pollution. Because ozone pollution usually forms in hot weather, anyone who spends time outdoors in the summer may be affected.

As the ALA notes, “By choosing to ignore the recommendations of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the President is failing to follow the nation’s landmark air pollution law, the Clean Air Act, and therefore failing to protect public health, particularly those most at risk including children, older people, and people who suffer from chronic lung diseases. For these people, breathing smog-polluted air can lead to coughing and wheezing, restricted airways, hospitalization and even death. Even healthy young adults and people who exercise or work outdoors can suffer from high levels of ozone pollution.”

All Americans, especially those already most at-risk from smog pollution, deserve the kind of protection ALA and EPA have called for. The President’s position on this issue is predicated by the false notion that tougher standards will adversely impact job creation. Remind the President that the creation of greener, cleaner jobs was at one time a top priority for his administration, and that his decision to punt on better smog standards is misguided and puts millions of Americans at needless risk.

Push For Cleaner, More Efficient Cars Now (60 mpg, get ready for your close-up)

A piece I co-wrote with Megan Fitzpatrick from PennEnvironment is in today’s Allentown Morning Call.   The essay is not featured on the Call‘s website, so I’ll paste the most recent version I have (may differ from what was ultimately printed in editorial details) and share some pictures of the hard copy here:

With the summer vacation season in full swing, many Pennsylvanians find themselves longing to be outside enjoying everything the state has to offer. Memories of summers gone by are vivid as we daydream about upcoming getaways – to the mountains or shore, to IronPigs or Phillies baseball games, to visit family and friends, or even as we look forward to weekend activities.

Unfortunately, great memories and hopeful plans will be as far as some of us get. Feeling the hurt of high gas prices, unemployment, and the still-sluggish economy, many families have decided to scale down their summer vacation plans or opt for “stay-vacations.” But due to increasingly bad air quality and high gas prices, even our stay-vacations and local excursions may be sabotaged.

The people of Pennsylvania have had enough of the dire consequences of our continued dependence on oil. We’ve had enough of the price spikes, the air pollution, the catastrophic oil spills, and the global warming pollution that threaten our economy, our environment and our public health. And now, our oil dependence is even jeopardizing something as basic as the ability to enjoy our outdoor resources this summer.

Just two weeks ago, both South Mountain and Blue Mountain disappeared from sight on an Air Quality Action Day, blocked by a haze of ground-level ozone. The temporary absence of the Lehigh Valley’s defining physical features reminds us that we need to take bold steps towards cleaning up our air by cleaning up our cars and changing our transportation habits.

The longer we stay addicted to oil and the longer we fail to utilize opportunities offered by ride-sharing and transit, the worse these problems will get. The time has come to take bold national steps toward oil independence. Simply put, we can, and must, harness American ingenuity in the production of cars and trucks that will get us further on one gallon of gas.

PennEnvironment recently released a report that found that the average Pennsylvania family could save $452 in one summer if our cars and trucks met a standard of 60 miles per gallon—a standard that the Department of Transportation and EPA have deemed within our reach by 2025. While Pennsylvanians are expected to spend more than $4.8 billion at the gas pump this summer, meeting a 60 mpg standard would save over half that, while reducing oil consumption by 600 million gallons and cutting dangerous carbon dioxide pollution by 6 million metric tons.

We know that we can harness American ingenuity and use existing technology to make our cars and trucks much cleaner and more fuel efficient. Just this week, we were pleased to learn that higher demand for Mack’s line of near-zero emission trucks is expected to bring more jobs to the Lehigh Valley this summer. Additionally, over the next three years, more than a dozen electric vehicle models will be mass-produced in the United States. These new cars offer superior automotive performance while consuming no oil on most trips and producing no tailpipe pollution. And, these rides can be operated for less than three pennies per mile.

Recognizing that we have the technology to break our oil dependence, the Obama administration set standards for new cars and trucks built between 2012 and 2016 that will save billions of gallons of fuel. This, too, was an excellent start, but more must be done. The standards the administration is now developing for cars sold between 2017 and 2025 offer an excellent opportunity to do just that.

President Obama should move clean cars into the fast lane by issuing standards that ensure that the average new car and light truck meet a standard of 60 miles per gallon by 2025. He has every reason to do so—not only will it benefit Pennsylvanians at the pump, but it will protect our health and environment.
Americans work hard and deserve stable access to affordable transportation and a healthy natural environment. The Obama administration should push ahead with clean car standards that will make these benefits a reality. We’ll all be richer, and breathe easier, for it.

Megan Fitzpatrick is the Federal Field Associate with PennEnvironment, a citizen-based, non-profit environmental advocacy organization.

Chris Cocca is the Outreach Director for the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley-Berks, a public/private coalition of volunteers dedicated to improving air quality in Lehigh, Northampton, and Berks Counties.