Cities from California to Colorado, from Illinois and Wisconsin to Virginia are likely to fail new air pollution tests now that the Environmental Protection Agency has revised its understanding of the health risk posed by ozone.
Ozone is formed when tailpipe and smokestack pollution interacts with heat and sunlight, primarily on hot summer days. It can trigger asthma attacks, permanently scar lung tissue and contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. It can also damage crops, forests and other ecosystems.
Because of the EPA's new rules, 300 cities and counties across the nation will have to do more to rein in air pollution, primarily nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, to make the air healthy enough to breathe for even those citizens who are sensitive to air pollution, like asthmatics, those with heart disease, young children and the elderly.
Under the old standard, just 85 counties were out of compliance, and deemed to have unhealthy air. Under the new rule, one in 10 U.S. counties is out of compliance.
The White House influenced the decision, however, overruling EPA scientists who said an even more stringent standard was required by law, and required to adequately protect public health. The standard the EPA set was less protective, by fully one-third, than the standard recommended by the EPA's Science Advisory Board, according to Environmental Defense.
The EPA set the rule only because environmental groups had sued, charging that the agency had failed to meet a law-mandated requirement to revise air pollution standards in light of new science. Expect this rule, like other Bush Administration environmental regulations, to end up in court.
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