Bond, McCaskill push for delay in new EPA ozone rules

WASHINGTON | By the end of the August, the Environmental Protection Agency intends to issue tougher rules that will require many cities and counties to come up with new plans to combat urban smog.

But U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill of Missouri are pushing the EPA to abandon its new regulations due to the weak economy and the cost of ridding the air of more pollution.

“We believe that changing the rules at this time will have a significant negative impact on our states’ workers and families and will compound the hardship that many are now facing in these difficult economic times,” reads a letter they signed.

Bond, a Republican, and McCaskill, a Democrat are among seven Midwestern senators who sent the letter to the EPA on Friday.

The EPA announced in January that it would issue a new standard for ground-level ozone by Aug. 31. An EPA official said today that the deadline still holds.

Ground-level ozone forms when auto and industrial emissions of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide react react with sunlight.

Two years ago, the EPA toughened the standard to 75 parts-per-billion, translating roughly to 75 molecules of pollution in a billion molecules of air. The agency says it intends to further lower that limit to between 60-70 ppb.

Exposure to ground-level ozone can make it harder to breathe and aggravate chronic lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

The EPA also is proposing to establish a secondary standard aimed at protecting sensitive vegetation and ecosystems such as forests, parks and wildlife refuges.

Under court order two years ago, the Bush administration toughened decade-old ozone regulations after a review that the EPA says was based on more than 1,700 scientific studies.

Nonetheless, the senators contend in their letter that no new data has emerged that would compel more stringent limits.

“We have become increasingly concerned that the agency’s environmental policies are being advanced to the detriment of the people they are intended to protect,” the letter reads.

Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington advocacy group Clean Air Watch, asserted that “relatively few senators are attempting to interfere in such a blatant way in this EPA rule.

He argued that the senators “are conveniently leaving out the significant detail that the Bush administration ignored the standard recommended by its own science advisers.”