Testimony from EPA hearing on opposing Ozone and air quality standards

By LCV Legislative Director Matthew Davis

This week, LCV Legislative Director Matthew Davis delivered his testimony at the EPA’s hearing on opposing the proposal to not strengthen or retain the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Read his full testimony below:

Good evening. Thank you to my former colleagues on the panel and other civil servants across EPA for your public service. I appreciate the opportunity to provide comment in opposition to the proposed rule to not strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, or O3 NAAQS. My name is Matthew Davis, and I am Legislative Director of the League of Conservation Voters, or LCV. I am also a former EPA health scientist and worked on the 2015 O3 NAAQS. On behalf of the LCV’s more than 2 million members, its Latinx community organizing project, Chispa, and network of 30 state partner organizations across the country, I’d like to state that EPA’s proposal is unacceptable. This would have been a bad policy decision even before we were facing a respiratory pandemic that is exacerbated by air pollution and laying bare the structural racism in our country – and now it is simply unthinkable. In 2015 O3 NAAQS process, I, and most members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), argued that a standard at 70 parts per billion (ppb) was inadequate for protecting public health, and particularly children’s developing lungs. And the science has advanced in the half decade since then, and more clearly shows that stronger limits are needed to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. But the Trump administration appointees restructured the process to develop this rule in order to push independent science and advice out of the rulemaking. For the final rule, the EPA must follow the science and statutory requirements, and set stronger O3 NAAQS: the 8-hour standard should be lowered to at least 60ppb.

Ozone pollution, also known as smog, attacks and inflames lung tissue and impairs our ability to breathe. Even low levels of ozone pollution can trigger immediate and dangerous health impacts, including shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks, an increased risk of respiratory infections, and increased susceptibility to pulmonary inflammation. Ozone pollution does not have to be particularly elevated to cause these effects; there is no threshold under which health researchers do not find effects. Studies in the US and Canada have indicated health effects, and even increased risk of death, at levels below the current standard. And because children’s lungs are still developing and they spend more time outside running around, ozone pollution has an outsized impact on children, leading to lower lung capacity and higher risk of developing asthma. Ozone pollution has also been associated with higher likelihood of premature birth and low birth weight babies, which can put children at long term risk of a variety of negative health and developmental outcomes.

And, because of the additive and cumulative effects of structural racism and air pollution, African Americans, Indigenous people, and people of color experience higher risks of harm from ozone pollution, including premature death, incidence of asthma, and hospitalization. According to data presented by the American Lung Association, of the 20 million people living in counties with failing grades for ozone and particulate matter pollution, 14 million are people of color. Add to that the finding of a recent study that there is an increased risk of death from ozone pollution when other pollutants are also present and you get a deadly and racist combination. For all of these reasons and too many more to enumerate here, in 2014 the CASAC cautioned against setting the standard at 70 ppb and was nearly united in suggesting that the EPA should lower the acceptable ozone level to around 65 ppb. And the science has become even more clear since then that hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives are being damaged by ozone levels that meet the current standard of 70 ppb. The effects on children’s developing lungs and the persistent racial disparity are reason enough to take action to further reduce levels of pollution, and doubly so when communities of color are disproportionately suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis and the Trump administration’s delayed, inadequate, and uncoordinated response has shown that ignoring science makes us less safe, that experts are appropriate to listen to, science matters, and taking preventative action is imperative. These lessons also apply to tackling ozone pollution. But the Trump administration appointees have again attempted to sideline science and experts, and have also skewed the process for their friends in polluting industries at the expense of the public. For decades, EPA has convened a panel of experts to help provide scientific advice as it was reviewing the adequacy of air quality standards. But in this review, Trump’s appointees rejected the expert panel, stacked the CASAC with industry representatives, gave insufficient time for scientific review and public input, and restricted the review of scientific studies.

Again, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to provide comment in opposition to the proposed rule to not strengthen the O3 NAAQS. The Trump administration’s EPA should abandon its reckless proposed rule and set stronger O3 NAAQS with an 8-hour standard at no more than 60ppb.”

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