406 Dirksen EPW Hearing Room

Barbara Boxer


Thank you, Senator Carper, for scheduling this important hearing on ozone—often called smog. It is appropriate that we are discussing today the health threats from the ozone air pollution—during a week plagued by “code orange” unhealthy ozone level warnings for vulnerable people right here in Washington, and in many other parts of the nation.

Smog kills, and EPA should be doing everything it can to save lives and protect the health of our children and families. EPA’s own expert panel of scientists has unanimously concluded that the current ozone standard won’t protect public health.

Smog pollution is a major public health problem nationwide, and is often especially severe in my home State of California. It is a leading cause of school absences in my state. The California Air Resources Board has estimated that smog causes over 4.7 million school absences a year statewide.

EPA Administrator Johnson has publicly stated that he agrees that the current smog standard is not protective. Unfortunately, as we will hear today, EPA’s ozone proposal allows for more pollution than the science supports, and it could even leave the current unsafe standard in place.

The science overwhelmingly supports closing the door on the current standard once and for all. Instead of listening to science, the Administrator seems to be listening to the wish lists of polluting industries. The final ozone rule must protect clean air and public health, period. Anything less is unacceptable.

Scientists agree that EPA needs to adopt a stricter standard for ozone to protect the health of the public, especially vulnerable citizens including children, people with asthma, and the elderly.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the backbone of the Clean Air Act. They set the maximum level of an air pollutant, such as ozone, that is safe for us to breathe. Setting an appropriate standard for ozone is crucial to protecting the health of millions of Americans.

Ever since 1970, the Clean Air Act has required that these standards be set solely on the basis of the latest available health science.

The Supreme Court has recently confirmed that these standards are to be set based on science and health effects.

o The law says that the standards must “protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.”
o The law requires that in setting such standards, EPA shall consider sensitive subpopulations, which often means children and the elderly.
o The law says that the standards must be based on “the latest scientific knowledge.”

Unfortunately, EPA has failed to heed the unanimous scientific opinion of the expert review panel created under the Clean Air Act specifically to provide advice regarding these standards.

EPA has said that it may set the standard at levels above those recommended by the review panel, and has agreed to take comments about retaining the existing standard.

EPA did this even though we know now that ozone harms people at levels below the existing standard.

We know that ozone leads to a whole “pyramid” of effects, including lost school and work days, aggravation of asthma and other chronic lung diseases, increased susceptibility to infection, reduced lung function, hospital admissions, and even premature death.

All children, but especially asthmatic children and those who are active outdoors, are among the most vulnerable. Adults with asthma and other lung disease, older adults and adults who work outdoors are also particularly vulnerable.

These facts led the independent review panel to say unanimously that “there is no scientific justification for retaining the current [standard]…of 0.08 parts per million.”

As a result, the panel “unanimously recommends a range of 0.060-0.070 parts per million” as the ozone standard.

Yet EPA proposed a standard in the range of 0.070-0.075 parts per million.

EPA’s proposal is unacceptable.

This is not the first time in recent months that EPA has ignored the science with regard to setting these kinds of standards.

At the end of last year, EPA refused to revise the annual standard for particulate matter. The agency’s own independent scientific review panel had taken the unusual step of reconvening to reiterate its advice that the annual standard needed to be tightened, but EPA disregarded its advice.

EPA has also decided to change its process for setting future ambient air quality standards – it will treat the independent review panel like any other commenter and it will allow political considerations to intrude into the recommendations made by staff scientists based on scientific evidence alone.

Playing politics with public health is unconscionable.

We need an EPA that will, above all else, make sound scientific judgments that protect public health and not polluters.

We need an EPA that will heed the clear words of the Clean Air Act, which call for an adequate “margin of safety” to protect “sensitive subpopulations” which include the most vulnerable members of society.

We need an EPA that will read the clear language of the law in a way that will pass muster in the courts, unlike many of EPA’s recent Clean Air Act rules.

Breathing clean air is not a luxury.

EPA’s standards must be set based on the latest and best science. The simple act of breathing must not threaten anyone’s health or the life, most especially our elderly citizens and children who are least able to protect themselves. 

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