U.S. EPA retains air quality standards for ozone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday it would retain current air quality standards for ozone despite calls by environmental groups to strengthen them, winning support from the oil industry and Chamber of Commerce.

FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies at a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, U.S., May 20, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

The agency will keep in place the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone set by the Obama administration in 2015 of 70 parts per billion.

“Based on a review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisors, we are proposing to retain existing ozone standards which will ensure the continued protection of both public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

Health and environmental groups had called on the agency to tighten the standard to 60 parts per billion, arguing the current level puts those with asthma and other respiratory ailments at risk.

Last August, a federal court was unanimous in upholding the Obama-era standard, which had been challenged by energy companies, including coal company Murray Energy Corp, the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute.

They had opposed the previous EPA when it tightened the ozone standard to 70 parts per billion from 75 parts per billion, arguing it was too difficult for companies to achieve.

The Trump EPA defended the Obama-era standard in that legal challenge.

The EPA also decided to retain its secondary public welfare standard designed to protect wildlife, which the court had ordered the agency to examine closely.

Industry groups that had sued the EPA to lower the ozone standard praised the announcement on Monday.

“API joins with groups across several industry sectors to support this proposed rule,” said API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola.

The American Lung Association and 14 other health groups said the EPA proposal violated the core purpose of the federal Clean Air Act to protect public health with an “adequate margin of safety.”

“There is powerful, overwhelming evidence that shows that this standard is not adequate to protect the health of Americans,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney