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Report Finds 80% of All Westerners at Greater Risk Because of Abandoned Clean Air Plans

September 6, 2011
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303
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Climate + Energy  
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Report Finds 80% of All Westerners at Greater Risk Because of Abandoned Clean Air Plans

WildEarth Guardians Challenges Obama Administration’s Failure to Protect Breathable Air
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303

Denver—Last FridaySeptember 2, President Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)to withdraw its plan to update federal clean air standards limiting smogpollution nationwide, which according to a WildEarth Guardians analysis putsnearly 80% of all westerners at greater risk of asthma attacks, lung damage,and even premature death.

The findings have spurred WildEarth Guardians to file suitagainst the EPA over its failure to start limiting smog.

“Instead of standing strong for clean air and our health, PresidentObama has opted to let westerners choke on smog,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climateand Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Clean air is a hallmark of the American West, butunfortunately, for the vast majority of the westerners, clean air is stillelusive.”

Smog, otherwise known as ground-level ozone pollution, formswhen sunlight reacts with pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gasdrilling. Up high, ozone protectsthe Earth from ultraviolet radiation, but down low, it’s a poisonous gas thatcan trigger a number of adverse health effects, including asthma attacks,wheezing, lung damage, and even premature death.

In early 2010, the EPA proposed updated limits onground-level ozone nationwide. Theproposal was spurred by the Clean Air Act, which requires the Agency to setnational air quality standards based on what is necessary to protect publichealth and welfare. The EPA proposedto limit ozone in the ambient air to between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per millionover an eight-hour period, the strongest limits ever.

The proposal was supported by the Agency’s own Clean AirScientific Advisory Committee, a group of nationally renowned clean air andpublic health scientists that was established by Congress.

Under the proposal, a number of areas in the Western UnitedStates would have violated the new ozone standards and be designated as “dirtyair” areas, depending on where the final standard was set. Far from being detrimental, the dirtyair designation would have spurred much needed clean up in order to restorebreathable air. Most of theseareas have never before been forced to clean up their smog, meaning for thefirst time, many westerners would face the prospect of healthy air. Some examples of these areas includeSublette and Teton Counties, Wyoming, counties in North and South Dakota, LaPlata and Montezuma Counties, Colorado, Navajo County, Arizona, WashingtonCounty, Utah, Ada County, Idaho, and many others.

A WildEarth Guardians analysis of the counties that wereprojected to violate the EPA’s standards, depending on whether the standard wasset at 0.060, 0.065, or 0.070 parts per million, indicates that nearly 80% of theentire population of the Western United States would have benefitted from theclean up requirements under the new ozone standards. All told, more than 50 million westerners would havebenefitted from the restoration of clean, breathable air.

“The EPA’s revised ozone standards would have restoredclean, breathable air for millions of westerners,” said Nichols. “Urban and rural communities alikewould have reaped the benefits, but unfortunately, that hope has beenscuttled.”

In response to the findings and President Obama’sannouncement, WildEarth Guardians filed suit against the EPA to compel theagency to start taking steps to protect westerns from smog by implementingozone standards adopted in 2008. Althoughfound by the EPA to be scientifically questionable, the standards were strongerthan the previous limits. Ifimplemented, the 2008 standards would provide greater protection for westernersin places like Sublette County, Wyoming, and start to make strides towardmeeting any future revised ozone standards.

WildEarth Guardians is also calling on the EPA to implementother aspects of the 2008 standards to ensure the American West is safeguardedfrom smog.

“The West can’t wait for politics to accommodate clean air,”said Nichols. “We need to takeevery step possible to keep smog in check, starting with the 2008 ozonestandards.”


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The findings have spurred WildEarth Guardians to file suit against the EPA over its failure to start limiting smog.