EPA Announces New Process To Review Air Quality Standards; New Senate Chair Criticizes Policy

On Dec. 7, EPA announced an updated process for reviewing and setting the agency's National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). According to the agency, these updates will help improve the efficiency of the NAAQS review process and ensure that the best available science is used in making air quality decisions. The changes were made partially at the request of agency science advisors, who have complained that the process for reviewing new health standards is overwhelming, officials said.

However, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), incoming chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, criticized the policy, calling the change "ill advised." Boxer said that the change will be the focus of her first oversight hearing when Democrats take control of Congress next month.

"EPA has taken a dangerous turn. Instead of basing health standards on the best science, they will now inject politics into the entire decision," Boxer stated.

The Clean Air Act requires that every five years, the agency review existing standards for the six air pollutants considered most dangerous to human health. The new process, which largely reflects suggestions of the American Petroleum Institute, would eliminate the "staff papers" created by career EPA staffers. Instead, a "policy assessment" will be crafted by senior White House appointees at the agency. Additionally, this new policy will downgrade the status of EPA's independent science advisers. Instead of having the role of critiquing the "staff paper," as they have in the past, independent advisors will not have a chance to comment on the assessment until it is published in the Federal Register -- putting them on same footing as industry lobbies, critics contend.

"EPA is downgrading the role of its own career experts and making sure that political appointees are running the show from the beginning," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch.

Additional information on the new process can be found at http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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