Ozone Politics: EPA’s New Smog Plan Falls Short

The Environmental Protection Agency must set stronger air pollution standards -- and then do more to enforce them.

The Environmental Protection Agency today announced a proposal to lower the limit for smog to 70-to-75 parts per billion, down from 80 parts per billion. This proposal unfortunately falls short of the mark. The agency’s own scientific advisory panel recommended that a new standard be no higher than 70 parts per billion.

The problem of lax enforcement also remains. As the Center for American Progress documented just last year, 158 million Americans live in areas that fail to meet the current federal standard for ground-level ozone pollution, also called smog, which can cause lung damage and poses a particular risk to children. In these areas, “code red” or “code orange” air quality advisories are as familiar a part of the summer forecast as high heat and humidity levels.

States are primarily responsible for enforcing the federal smog standard (as well as other air quality standards). But resources are inadequate to the task, due in large part to declining federal grants to state and local air quality agencies. In Texas, for example, there is only one inspector for every 352 permitted air pollution facilities.

Nonetheless, President Bush has continually proposed even steeper cuts in enforcement grants to states. Congress should resist these proposed cuts and instead give states the resources they need to police polluters and clean our air.

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