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Polluting Industries Say Sky Is Falling as EPA Proposes Stronger Ozone Standards
These days we hear a lot about greenhouse gases—carbon and methane—and not so much about ozone. But that doesn't mean that the smog-causing pollutant is no longer a problem. And this morning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy announced new standards for reducing ozone in the atmosphere.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
In an editorial We need tougher ozone standards, published in CNN Money, McCarthy said that the EPA will propose lowering the current air concentration of 75 parts per billion, set by the Bush administration but never enforced, to 65-70 parts per billion, and will take public comments on setting a standard as low as 60. She said that states will have until 2020-2037 to meet the new standards, depending on the level of each state's ozone issues. She said, "The federal government will back up state actions with programs in place or in development, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and our proposed Clean Power Plan. For a state like California with its unique geology and meteorology, even meeting the standard by 2037 could be a daunting task, so we have to work together to bring new technologies and solutions to the table."
Thanks to government regulations, ozone, produced by vehicles, industry and fossil fuel-burning power plants, has been steeply reduced already. According to McCarthy, ozone pollution has decreased 33 per cent nationwide since 1980. But the health impacts of smog are still there, especially in respiratory diseases and the dramatic increases in the number of asthma cases. China, battling a much worse smog problem, has 74 cities with worse smog than Los Angeles, the U.S.'s smoggiest city, and has become notorious for the health problems it's caused. It's been estimated that two million people around the world die each year as a result of air pollution from ozone and particulates. McCarthy said that for each dollar invested in meeting the new standards, $3 would be saved in health-care costs.
“We applaud the EPA proposal to lower the existing standard, and strongly encourage the agency to limit this pollution to 60 ppb when they finalize the exact standard in October of 2015. A 60 ppb standard will be a breath of fresh air for thousands of Americans who suffer needlessly with asthma attacks, nervous system disorders and heart ailments when exposed to smog pollution," said Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign director.
Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice vice president of healthy communities, agrees. “Thousands of people are dying every year, according to the EPA’s own analysis, because of smog,” said Garcia. “As a nation we must do all we can to save lives and reduce the incidence of respiratory illnesses, particularly for the most vulnerable, including children, the elderly, people who work outdoors and people with asthma, especially African American and Latino children, all of which are disproportionately affected by smog.”
McCarthy pointed out that we will hear the usual chorus of voices claiming the new standards are job-killing and will hurt the economy—the sort of people whose case against the Obama administration's 2012 limits on mercury and other pollutants from coal-fired plants that U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear. Republican legislators and industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute have already said they will fight the new standards. The National Association of Manufacturers melodramatically called it "the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public."
But McCarthy anticipated the chorus of nay-sayers, pointing out, "Special-interest critics will try to convince you that pollution standards chase away local jobs and businesses, but, in fact, healthy communities attract new businesses, new investment and new jobs. Critics often attempt to deny and discredit the science and exaggerate the costs of dealing with pollution. When EPA revised ozone standards in 1997, critics claimed 'new air quality regulations... will destroy jobs, hike business costs, and exact painful lifestyle changes while doing little to improve health...' None of that ever came true."
In the ’70s, McCarthy said, critics said removing lead from gas would destroy the auto industry. It didn't. In the ’90s, they said fighting acid rain would make electricity prices go up and cause blackouts. It didn't. She doesn't expect the sky to fall this time either.
"Time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried the sky was falling," she said. "And time after time, EPA obeyed the law, followed the science, protected public health, and fortified a strong American economy. Over four decades, we've cut air pollution by nearly 70%, while our economy has tripled in size. The sky never fell. Today's action follows that proven path."
And Clean Air Watch’s Frank O'Donnell said, "I would urge you to read not only EPA’s proposal but the summary of projected economic impacts. It gives a lie to the flatulent industry claims that this would be the most expensive rule ever. We do not need to choose between public health protection and a sound economy. History has demonstrated that we can—and must—have both."
"Obviously, this action is long overdue," he said. "Like the agency’s science advisers, EPA recognizes that keeping the current outdated standard would be irresponsible."
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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