smogPhoto: jordansmall via Flickr

Cross-posted from Wonk Room.

In a startling act of fealty to polluter interests, several senators are fighting scientifically guided smog limits that would save thousands of lives a year. Under the guidance of administrator Lisa Jackson, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean up one of George W. Bush’s most blatant acts of ignoring science and disregarding the law, when he personally overruled the unanimous recommendations of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee for an ozone limit no higher than 70 ppb, setting instead an arbitrary and capricious standard of 75 ppb. Jackson intends to instead follow the law by setting a 60-70 ppb standard. However, a group of Democratic and Republican senators led by retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) are trying to preserve Bush’s toxic legacy on behalf of the coal and oil industries in their states, complaining to Jackson that her plan “will have a significant negative impact on our states’ workers and families”:

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.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

The pro-smog letter was also signed by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and David Vitter (R-La.).

Remarkably, the senators do not seem cognizant of Bush’s well-reported act of malfeasance, complaining that “the Agency has not presented new data or evidence to justify its course of action”:

Instead, outside of the regular five-year review process, EPA is choosing to interpret the same basic body of information that existed in 2008 and reach a different conclusion. . .

Given the absence of new or different scientific data, EPA should maintain the current ozone standards, which EPA finalized only two years ago and concluded were adequately protective of public health and welfare with an adequate of safety [sic].

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Actually the conclusion EPA staff and scientists drew in 2008, based on the scientific evidence that “ozone has a direct impact on rates of heart and respiratory disease and resulting premature deaths,” was that a standard no higher than 70 ppb was needed. The agency calculated that a standard of 65 ppb “would avoid 3,000 to 9,200 deaths annually,” two to three times more than a 75 ppb standard. The difference is that George W. Bush is no longer the decider.

The senators also claim that the previous smog standards harmed the economy:

We note that many states are only recently coming into attainment with the 1997, 0.084 ppm ozone standard. Attaining that standard required costly mandates on businesses, which greatly restricted the ability of local communities to grow their economies. . .

While we believe we can and should continue to improve our environment, 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. That is, these policies are impacting our standard of living by drastically increasing energy costs and decreasing the ability of our states to create jobs, foster entrepreneurship, and give manufacturers the ability to compete in the global marketplace.

The claim that attainment with the 1997 standard “greatly restricted the ability of local communities to grow their economies” is without evidence. In fact, the only noticeable effect of the 1997 standards on the economy was to dramatically cut the regulated pollution, making millions of children healthier, even as the economy steadily grew, as this EPA chart shows:


GDP vs emissions


Finally, the senators claim — again without evidence — that “non-attainment” penalties under the Clean Air Act “undermine the economic viability of communities within our states.” In fact, “there is no clear evidence that non-attainment designations or progress in addressing air quality prevent areas from growing,” EPA officials informed the Wonk Room. Areas such as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and many others have been non-attainment for years and have had very strong growth rates. The EPA tells the Wonk Room:

We see no significant differences in the trend of employment, wages and number of establishments between attainment and non-attainment areas.

There is clear evidence, however, that this effort to ensure that more children have asthma attacks comes on behalf of coal and oil corporations in the senators’ states. Peabody Energy, the “world’s leading coal company,” is based in Missouri and has mines in Indiana, and is a top campaign contributor to McCaskill, Bond, Lugar and Bayh. Murray Energy, the “largest privately owned coal company in America,” is based in Voinovich’s state. Landrieu and Vitter have collected a combined $1.5 million from the pollution industry, whose refineries and power plants keep killing children and keep sending these senators back to Washington.