Last Friday, EPA’s staff issued its final recommendation for a revised national ambient air quality standard for ozone (“ozone NAAQS”), known as a Policy Assessment, which I’ve posted at the bottom of this blog. The document is supposed to represent “the latest scientific knowledge useful in indicating the kind and extent of all identifiable effects on public health or welfare which may be expected from [ozone],”* and thereby inform Administrator Gina McCarthy’s determination of where to set the standard. The ozone NAAQS was last revised to 75 parts per billion in 2008; on Friday, the EPA staff recommended that standard be revised to somewhere between 60 and 70 parts per billion.
But here’s the thing: The staff’s advice doesn’t matter. Thanks to a recent ruling in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the EPA—indeed, the federal government!—has no say in the setting of an ozone NAAQS. Instead, that prerogative has been bestowed on an obscure group of technocrats known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council.
This is to be feared. The economic consequences of a revised ozone NAAQS are tremendous. There are literally trillions of dollars at stake. Such a decision is unequivocally a POLICY determination, especially given that we’re talking about non-mortal health impacts. In America, a POLICY decision should be rendered by a branch of government with an electoral foundation, not a roomful of epidemiologists enamored with the “profound policy implications” of their research. I explain this here and here.