Wash. Times Op-Ed Falsely Suggests Bush's Ozone Standard Was Based On "Scientific Review"


In a recent Washington Times op-ed, John Engler, the President of the Business Roundtable, claims that the EPA's proposed standards for ground-level ozone constitute a "manufactured crisis" that will cost businesses and hinder job growth. Engler questions why stricter standards are necessary, since the Bush administration recently strengthened the standards after "years of scientific review":

Following years of scientific review, public input and legal proceedings, the Bush administration set a new limit of 0.075 parts per million (ppm) in 2008, a reduction from the currently enforced level of 0.084 ppm. Now, before that limit ever went into effect, the EPA is proposing even lower levels, ranging from 0.60 to 0.70 ppm.

This suggests that Bush's ozone standard was based on a "scientific review." But as we previously reported, the Bush administration ignored the "scientific review" that Engler references. The panel of scientists and doctors recommended a standard of between 60-70 ppb (the same level proposed by current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson), and subsequently refused to endorse the Bush administration's chosen standard of 75 ppb because it is not "sufficiently protective of public health."

The Bush administration's failure to follow the advice of its scientific advisors "inevitably raises the question of whether the [EPA] Administrator's decision will be judged arbitrary and capricious in judicial review," according to the Congressional Research Service. Indeed, Bush's standard was immediately challenged in court by states and environmental groups. As Politico reported, "the court agreed to put that litigation on hold" after the Obama administration said it would reconsider the Bush standard.

To undercut the case for more stringent ozone standards, Engler cites evidence of improving air quality in recent decades as proof that further regulation is unnecessary:

The truth is that air quality has been steadily improving without additional mandates. The EPA reports that average ozone levels declined in the 1980s, leveled off in the 1990s and have resumed a notable decline since 2002. As companies come into compliance with existing regulations, the air will continue to get cleaner.

Engler claims these air quality improvements happened "without additional mandates." In reality, these improvements are a testament to the success of the Clean Air Act. The ozone standard was strengthened in 1997. And as the Wall Street Journal reported, recent declines in ground-level ozone are a result of clean air regulations:

As the government required more-aggressive controls on pollutants from cars and factories, average ozone levels declined in the 1980s, leveled off in the 1990s and showed a notable decline after 2002.

According to an EPA report on National Air Quality through 2007, declines in ozone levels since 2002 are "largely due to reductions in oxides of nitrogen emissions required by EPA's rule to reduce ozone."

Still, public health experts say we must do better. Studies show that ozone has harmful health effects at levels below the Bush-era standard, as Greenwire reported:

It is well-established that ozone can have health effects at the current limit of 84 parts per billion (ppb), which still has not been met in parts of the Northeast, much of Southern California and industrial cities such as Houston. According to the assessment, recent studies found a robust link between health effects and smog levels below either the current limit or the standard of 75 ppb that was selected by the last administration.

Posted In
Environment & Science
The Washington Times, Business Roundtable
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