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Administrator Pruitt Signs Memo to Reform the National Ambient Air Quality Standards Review Process

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a memorandum outlining a “Back-to-Basics” process for reviewing National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act. This memo ensures that EPA and its independent science advisors follow a transparent, timely, and efficient process in reviewing and revising public health- and welfare-based NAAQS. 

The reforms, advancing initiatives set out in President Trump’s April 12 Memorandum on Promoting Domestic Manufacturing and Job Creation – Policies and Procedures Relating to Implementation of Air Quality Standards, include incorporating important policy-relevant context, as required in the Clean Air Act, on issues like background pollution and potential adverse health, welfare, economic, energy, and social effects from strategies to attain and maintain the NAAQS. The memo commits EPA to begin the next review of the ozone NAAQS so it can finalize any revisions by the Clean Air Act deadline of October 2020. It also requires that the Agency complete its review of the particulate matter NAAQS by December 2020. 

“The principles laid out in this memorandum will reform the process for setting national air quality standards in a manner consistent with cooperative federalism and the rule of law,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Getting EPA and its advisors back on track with Clean Air Act requirements, statutory deadlines, and the issuance of timely implementation rules will ensure that we continue the dramatic improvement in air quality across our country.”

“These NAAQS process reforms better separate scientific judgments from policy decisions,” said former EPA Deputy Administrator (2005 – 2009) Marcus Peacock. “Setting air quality standards is murky enough without muddying the distinctly different duties of scientists and political appointees in protecting human health and the environment.”

“As Administrator Pruitt and I discussed early in his tenure at EPA, clean air is our common goal, the question is how we get there. Missed deadlines and delayed guidance don’t help achieve it. Having all the facts as we set these standards also provides useful insight as standards that impact wide swaths of the country are set,” said Rep. Pete Olson (TX). “I thank the Administrator and his team for taking this key step, and look forward to working with him as we continue to move toward standards that improve air quality while reducing unnecessary red tape.”

“These reforms are long overdue. Congress clearly understood that there would be tradeoffs involved in the Clean Air Act,” said Bracewell LLP Partner and former EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (2001 – 2005) Jeff Holmstead. “It’s good to see that the public will finally get an authoritative accounting of the adverse effects caused by some of EPA’s regulatory mandates. Policymakers, including members of Congress, need to understand the adverse public health, social, and economic effects of the actions that will be needed to meet inflexible air quality standards.”

“A consequence of EPA’s non-transparent National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) setting process (which the Administrator rectified last month), has been the establishment of some standards near background levels,” said Principal Scientist for Air Improvement Resource, Inc., and former Chairman of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (1992 – 1996) Dr. George Wolff. “The policy ramifications of this have not been fully appreciated. Setting the NAAQS at such low levels has also exacerbated unintended adverse impacts. The contributions to uncontrollable background levels and the nature of these adverse effects need to be better understood to inform policy making decisions. It is not only appropriate that CASAC be an integral part of these discussions, but it is also mandated by an often-overlooked section of the Clean Air Act.”

“I applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to improve implementation of the Clean Air Act,” said Sen. John Barrasso (WY). “These necessary reforms will give certainty to states and businesses. The reforms will also make sure the Environmental Protection Agency considers all relevant data and information when it makes decisions. That is just good government.” 

“I applaud the EPA for taking this commonsense step to fix our broken process for setting and implementing ozone standards, which has caused confusion and stifled investment and job creation throughout the country,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV). “I am encouraged that the EPA reforms are taking an approach similar to that in legislation that I have championed, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act.”

“I have been a participant and observer of the NAAQS review process since 1977 including serving as CASAC Chair and on Panels reviewing all of the criteria pollutants. The process has continued to improve over the decades, however, serious issues still remain. I applaud key principles outlined in the memo,” said Independent Advisor on Toxicology and Human Health Risk Assessment and former Chairman of EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (1988 – 1992) Dr. Roger O. McClellan. “It is appropriate to commit to meeting the statutory deadline of completing the review of each NAAQS every five years. Coordinating the Ozone and Particulate Matter reviews so they are completed close to each other, in October 2020 for Ozone and December 2020 for PM, should increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. The focus needs to be on the policy relevant information that will inform the policy decisions the CAA requires the Administrator to make.”

Click here to view the full memo.