March 14, 2008

But Wait, There's More

Responding to orders from President Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency scrapped a limit on ozone pollution that would have protected parks, wildlife, and crops.

While a major public health threat, ozone also damages vegetation. Take this example, where researchers studying the effects of ozone on corn crops found "significant" impacts, including reduced grain yield, lower seed weight, and shorter cob length.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA adopts two different air quality standards: one to protects public health and the other to protect public welfare, including vegetation.

Last year, the EPA proposed a public welfare standard for ozone especially to protect parks, wildlife, and crops. While that standard was weaker than what the agency's science advisers recommended, President Bush ordered the EPA to scrap it entirely and just make the public welfare standard the same as the public health standard.

It could be argued that any ozone standard good enough for public health is good enough for plants, but that's not exactly true. Last year, the EPA's science advisers recommended that the public health standard limit ozone concentrations over 8-hour periods, while the public welfare standard limit concentrations over an entire growing season. In other words, plants are more sensitive to long-term exposure while people are more sensitive to shorter-term exposure.

From our standpoint, it's confusing that President Bush would intervene like this. Every year, ozone pollution destroys hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crops. One recent study found that reducing ozone by 25% would benefit agriculture by $1-$2 billion annually.

This latest Bush giveaway to industry is going to cost this country a lot more than we think.

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