Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has again delayed a decision on whether she will proceed with her controversial plan to toughen smog standards.
The new final rule on the standard had been promised in August, then by Nov. 1. Now, the agency says, no decision will be made before Dec. 31.
"Completing this rulemaking has taken longer than anticipated," EPA said in a U.S. District Court filing Nov. 1. "EPA expects that this process will take an additional two months."
In January, Jackson announced that EPA would propose the strictest health standards to date for smog, also known as ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone forms when emissions from industrial facilities, power plants, landfills and motor vehicles react in the sun.
EPA is proposing to set the “primary” standard, which protects public health, at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours. The current ozone standard was lowered to 0.075 ppm from 0.084 in March 2008—a level that EPA says is “not protective enough of human health.”
EPA has also proposed setting a separate, seasonal, “secondary” standard to protect the environment, especially plants and trees.
Depending on the level of the final standard, EPA estimates between $13 billion and $100 billion in health benefits and between $19 billion to $90 billion in implementation costs.
Business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and American Petroleum Institute (API), and even some Democrats have condemned the proposal as an unnecessary step that will kill millions of new jobs and consume $1 trillion in regulatory costs. The American Coatings Association has not issued a statement on the proposal.
An EPA spokesman said Thursday that the agency was “working hard to finalize an ozone standard that is based on what the science tells us about this threat to Americans' health.” The agency says it will also “propose implementation plan requirements that will help ensure that state, local governments, and tribes have the guidance they need to identify common sense, cost-effective strategies to protect public health.”
“We will announce the final rule as soon as it is ready,” the spokesman said. “This is an important and complex rulemaking, and EPA is working to ensure we get it right.”
Despite such reassurances, some environmentalists fear that the delay signals a possible weakening of the agency’s resolve on the plan, particularly with the Republican gains made in Tuesday’s election.
“We are extremely concerned about this delay,” Frank O’Donnell, president of the nonprofit Clean Air Watch, said in an email Thursday. “EPA’s independent science advisers have unanimously recommended setting a tougher national smog standard to prevent death and disease. Every day of delay means more people get sick.”
“The science is very clear,” O’Donnell said. “The delay has the foul stench of politics.”