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Senators Urge EPA Administrator to Base PM Standards on Science

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Location: Washington, DC


Senators Urge EPA Administrator to Base PM Standards on Science

U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords, Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, joined by eight of his Senate colleagues, today sent the following letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson. The letter urges the Administrator to base his upcoming decision regarding the Particulate Matter (PM) air quality standards on the extensive scientific record available, rather than on political considerations.

"We know that fine particulate matter kills people, and playing politics with public health is unconscionable," said Jeffords, I-Vt.. "Given his scientific background, Administrator Johnson should heed the advice of both his staff and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The new PM standard should save lives, not put more Americans at risk."

Joining Jeffords on letter were Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.; Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del.; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.; Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.;and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif..

The letter is pasted below.

February 3, 2006

The Honorable Stephen Johnson
Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC

Dear Administrator Johnson:

We are writing with regard to EPA's proposed revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM), which were published in the Federal Register on January 17th 2006. As EPA moves forward to finalize revisions to the PM standards later this year, it will be imperative that its decision reflect fully the enormous body of scientific evidence demonstrating that particulate matter is the cause of a wide range of health effects at levels well below the existing standards. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA's decision must be based on the "latest scientific knowledge." EPA's decision must take into account the recommendations of the independent Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC). NAAQS must be set at a level that is "requisite to protect public health" with "an adequate margin of safety." And, of course, any credible process for revising the NAAQS must also be conducted in a completely open and public manner. We are concerned that EPA's process for reviewing and revising the PM NAAQS may not ultimately meet these fundamental statutory requirements.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the cornerstone of the Clean Air Act. Their critical purpose is to ensure that our air is safe to breathe. We have known for years that fine particle pollution causes premature death, increased asthma attacks and numerous other health effects. In 1997, EPA revised the particulate matter standards on the basis of that evidence. In determining whether to further revise the standards, EPA has now reviewed more than 2000 scientific studies that have been published since 1996. These studies confirm the earlier research results that demonstrate the strong relationship between particle pollution and illness, hospitalization and premature death. Some of the more recent studies show the strong relationship between particle pollution and cardiovascular illnesses that trigger heart attacks and strokes. These studies also indicate a stronger relationship between both short- and long-term PM exposure and health effects than was evident in 1997.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to consider the advice of an independent scientific review panel, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, which must include at least one member of the National Academy of Sciences, one physician and one person representing state air pollution control agencies. That body exhaustively reviewed the current body of scientific evidence and concluded that EPA must revise both its short term (24 hour or daily) PM standard, and its annual PM standard. Unfortunately, EPA chose to disregard that advice and proposed to only revise the daily standard. And in making its proposal on the 24-hour standard, EPA chose the highest level recommended by CASAC-35 micrograms per cubic meter.

The level of the standards proposed by EPA will leave millions of Americans unprotected. It will also require few additional controls to be put in place. Had EPA followed the most protective recommendations of CASAC, it could have proposed options that would have prevented more than twice as many deaths. And that is not even considering the Clean Air Act requirement for an "adequate margin of safety" to protect "sensitive subpopulations."

We are also concerned about your decision to secretly convene a workgroup to conduct a "top to bottom" review of the NAAQS process, as set forth in a December 15, 2005 memo from Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock. That memorandum was not officially released by the Agency, nor did EPA publicly announce the creation of the workgroup, which will be headed by EPA Assistant Administrator George Gray and Acting Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum. It is not clear whether EPA intends the workgroup to conduct its review in public, whether the workgroup will consider and accept public comment on its recommendations, and what role the workgroup recommendations will play in the current PM review and in future NAAQS reviews, including the ongoing ozone NAAQS review. Any such review should be conducted in public with an appropriate opportunity for input from CASAC and any other interested parties.

Finally, we note that EPA has recently released its draft Regulatory Impact Analysis for the PM proposal. EPA admits that the draft is incomplete and that it does not include a national assessment of costs and benefits. In fact, while EPA reviewed information for nine cities, EPA has only included the results for five cities. Other key cities, including Los Angeles, where EPA did a risk assessment, and where significant benefits would be realized from revised standards, were not included. In addition, EPA has not analyzed alternative levels for the standard below 14 micrograms per cubic meter on an annual basis and below 30 micrograms per cubic meter on a daily basis. Had it done so, it might well have found significant additional benefits at such levels. EPA also focused its analysis on local controls even when, by its own admission, those controls are more expensive and less effective than regional controls. This choice has the effect of artificially inflating the projected costs of meeting the standards. Although EPA may not consider costs in setting standards, EPA's final RIA will need to more fairly reflect the true costs and benefits of the proposed standards and any recommended alternatives if it is to provide credible and useful information.

Playing politics with public health is unconscionable. When these standards were last revised in 1997, they were subject to multi-year litigation battle. Ultimately the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 1997 standards, validating the scientific process that was used to develop them. The science we have available to us today is even clearer than it was then. Fine particle pollution kills people at levels below the existing standards. We need to change these standards and heed the advice of our best and brightest scientific minds. We need to let them tell us when the air is safe to breathe. When EPA makes its final decision in September regarding new National Ambient Air Quality Standards, it must do so based on scientific, rather than political considerations. The lives of our citizens depend on it.

Sincerely,

(Signatures of Sens. Jeffords; Lieberman; Boxer; Carper; Clinton; Lautenberg; Obama; Feingold; Feinstein).

http://jeffords.senate.gov/~jeffords/press/06/02/2006203847.html

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