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Source: US State of California

Thursday, October 1, 2020

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined a coalition of 14 states in filing a comment letter today calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strengthen outdated ozone pollution standards and protect Californians’ ability to breathe clean and healthy air. Ozone, a key ingredient in smog, has been shown to harm public health — increasing the frequency and severity of asthma attacks and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ozone pollution leads to increased hospital visits and missed days of work and school, especially for our most vulnerable populations.

“The nation is dealing with a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system. During this time, it is imperative that EPA do its job to protect public health and our planet instead of ignore the science,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Ozone pollution does the greatest harm to California’s most underserved communities where exposure levels are disproportionately high. Climate change and the resulting increase in wildfires exacerbate this problem by increasing ozone and other pollutants that attack the respiratory system. It’s past time for the EPA to do its job.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review the public health impacts of ozone and other pollutants every five years and set an ambient threshold to protect public health and welfare. This standard is known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). However, the Trump Administration has undermined the NAAQS review process, preventing the best-qualified scientists from weighing in on EPA’s analysis and minimizing public oversight and transparency. The coalition’s comment letter to EPA highlights these problems, exposing EPA’s efforts to ignore the widely available science developed since 2015 that shows the health impacts of ozone occur at levels lower than the current standard.  One example is a study showing that exposure levels under the current standards of 70 parts per billion (ppb) cause up to 4.7 percent more asthma induced hospitalizations of school-aged children as compared to a lower standard of 60 ppb.

According to the American Lung Association, California is home to seven of the ten worst ozone-polluted regions in the nation, a problem that is compounded by recent heat waves and wildfires. “Environmental justice” communities in California face additional air quality threats from truck traffic and pollution from the oil and gas industry. Climate change also exacerbates the ozone problem, as rising temperatures and wildfires speed up the atmospheric processes that generate ozone gas.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting our right to breathe clean air. In August 2019, Attorney General Becerra and the California Air Resources Board led a coalition of seven states and state air agencies and the District of Columbia to help secure a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to uphold the 2015 air quality standards for ozone in Murray Energy Corporation v. EPA. The Trump Administration previously attempted to delay the implementation of the 2015 ozone standards, only to relent in the face of lawsuits from Attorney General Becerra and others. Attorney General Becerra has also taken the federal government to task for its NAAQS related to particulate matter. In November 2019, he led a multistate coalition in a letter urging the EPA to consider and thoroughly evaluate the current science on particulate matter emissions during its draft NAAQS assessment. And on June 29, 2020, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of 17 attorneys general alongside Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and New York Attorney General Letitia James in issuing a comment letter urging the EPA to set aside its arbitrary and capricious proposal leaving the current NAAQS particulate matter pollution unchanged and to instead strengthen those standards. 

In filing the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.

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