EPA Announces New Air-Quality Standards and Offenders

Today the U.S. EPA made two long-awaited announcements, the first a list of U.S. counties in violation of new, stricter air-quality standards, the second a set of rules meant to improve air quality. Both were the result of legal wrangling stretching back for years, with enviro groups suing to force the feds to tackle pollution and industry groups and some states suing to stall the rules. “[W]e’re going to raise the bar for everybody. No exceptions,” said EPA chief Mike Leavitt, whose agency was under court order to make the announcements. Some critics questioned the “no exceptions” bit, noting a provision in the rules that imposes stricter measures on counties that fail to meet both the old and new standards than on counties — primarily in “red” states that backed President Bush in 2000 — that only fell short of the new ones. Under the new standards, the number of counties in violation rose from 221 to 470, and the number of Americans breathing officially dirty air went from about 110 million to some 170 million. Enviros lauded the new standards, but expressed some concern about the “flexibility” Leavitt promised in the new rules. “Flexibility is great for yoga, but when it comes to air quality, it usually means polluters get to do more,” said Frank O’Donnell of the Clean Air Trust.