When Will Obama’s EPA Crack Down on Smog?

Rachel Johnson/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rachel-johnson/4312031431/">Flickr</a>


Fewer states this year are violating national smog standards, according to a survey by the non-profit Clean Air Watch. But that comes with a major caveat, the group says: Those standards were previously strengthened by the Bush administration in 2008, but stopped short of what Environmental Protection Agency scientists recommended. Now, Obama’s EPA says those recommendations should be embraced in order to protect against serious health risks. But, due to pressure from industry groups, the EPA has repeatedly delayed releasing the stricter rules since writing them up in January 2010.

Clean Air Watch found that this year 22 states—including New York and Pennsylvania (plus DC), where a heat wave is further compromising air quality right now—have experienced smog levels exceeding the current standard of 75 parts per billion. That’s down from 38 states last year. But states should actually aim for smog levels between 60 and 70 parts per billion to reduce health problems “ranging from aggravation of asthma to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease,” the EPA says.

The American Petroleum Institute—the chief lobbying group for oil companies—argues that the Bush-era change went far enough. States that exceed the smog limit risk fines and federal highway funding, so some lawmakers are concerned that a rule change would cost their states money and jobs. And it’s true: The EPA estimates that beefing up its standards would eventually cost states as much as $90 billion a year. However, the EPA contends, stengthened standards would produce health benefits worth a commensurate amount and save up to 12,000 people from premature death by 2020.

Late next month, the agency is scheduled to decide whether to go forward with the new rules. If the EPA does enact stricter smog controls, it has said it would give states until the end of 2013 to submit proposals detailing how they would bring problem areas into compliance. Those rules would then be phased in from 2014 to 2031 with extra time given to the dirtiest regions of the country, which include the Northeast, Southern and Central California, Chicago, and Houston.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.