AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Our health protections have endured because they're engineered to evolve - that statement today from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is proposing a change, a new lower standard for ozone. Ozone causes smog, and it's harmful to people with respiratory illnesses. Many in the business community are objecting to this move, but as we hear from NPR's Christopher Joyce, the government says, the old standard is too high.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: The current standard was set in 2008. It's supposed to be updated every five years, but President Obama put that decision off to avoid a fight with Republicans, so environmental and health groups sued to force the government to act. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency said, they've now examined over 1,000 new scientific studies of ozone since 2008. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy says, the country needs a tougher standard now.
GINA MCCARTHY: The science clearly tells us that ozone poses a real threat to our health. It can cause us to miss work or school, use medicine more often, send us to the hospital or lead to premature death.
JOYCE: Ozone is produced when a cocktail of air pollutants gets cooked up by sunlight in the atmosphere. These pollutants come from drilling rigs, pipelines and from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil or gas. They even come from paint.
PAUL BILLINGS: Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant, so it acts like a sunburn in your lungs.
JOYCE: Paul Billings is with the American Lung Association, one of groups that sued the EPA to revise its old standard.
BILLINGS: The air is much cleaner today than it was 45 years ago. We don't have the same high levels of smog that we saw then, but what we also know is that air pollution is more harmful and that ozone at lower levels causes grave harm, including premature death.
JOYCE: So what the EPA wants to do now is take the current standard for ozone - that's 75 parts per billion in air - and lower it to between 65 and 70 parts per billion. The agency will also consider going as low as 60 parts per billion. Businesses say, this will cost billions of dollars. They'll have to switch to different fuels or limit energy use. Lawyer Scott Segal represents manufacturers and energy companies at the firm Bracewell and Giuliani.
SCOTT SEGAL: The EPA has a lot of work to do to bring our nation into compliance with the standard that is currently on the books, but rather than doing that, they've decided to ratchet down even further.
JOYCE: In 2012, scores of towns and cities in almost 30 states were unable to meet the old ozone standard. These included Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Segal notes that many counties and states will have a hard time meeting the new standard.
SEGAL: That makes it materially difficult to build a manufacturing asset or drill for oil and gas or even engage in a major agricultural enterprise.
JOYCE: The EPA points out, however, that Europe and Canada have already achieved ozone levels lower than those proposed today. The agency is seeking comment on the new standard and is scheduled to make a final decision next October. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.