In an effort to clear up smog, the U.S. EPA on Wednesday lowered the permissible amount of ozone in the air, a move that will require 345 counties around the country to clamp down on pollution over the coming years. But the agency ignored the calls of its own scientific advisers for a steeper pollution cut. The EPA will lower the ozone standard to 75 parts per billion from the current limit of 80 ppb. The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had unanimously called for a standard of 60 to 70 ppb, and the American Lung Association and other public health advocates had called for a standard of 60. In contrast, electric utilities, oil companies, and other polluting industries intensely lobbied the Bush administration to keep the limit at 80 ppb.
“While an improvement over the current standard, EPA’s rule fails to adequately protect the health of millions of people throughout the country,” said William Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Smog can cause asthma, permanent lung damage, and premature death. The EPA estimates that the new standard will save up to 1,100 people from premature death, whereas lowering the standard to 70 ppb could have avoided as many as 3,800 premature deaths.