Tougher ozone standards that President Barack Obama withdrew in early September and their purported health benefits touted by the Environmental Protection Agency were based on flawed science, a Texas official charged today.
EPA based the tougher ozone standards on preliminary studies that don’t establish causation and make unrealistic assumptions about how much ozone ill people are exposed to before they die, Michael Honeycutt, chief toxicologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said in testimony before a House panel.
“There are a whole host of common sense questions that go unanswered in these studies,” Honeycutt told an energy and environment subcommittee. “Simply put these studies cannot tell us if ozone caused these deaths or if these people died prematurely, much less tell us what level of ozone caused their deaths,”
“It is a disservice to her citizens when government exaggerates, misstates or misleads the public about the ‘real’ risk of environmental effects,” he added in written testimony.
Obama withdrew the ozone standards while under pressure from Republicans and industry officials to delay the new regulations. The EPA has said the agency will reconsider new rules in 2013 as part of required regular review of rules.
Honeycutt’s testimony underscores how Republican members of Congress have tried to expand the scope of their attacks on those regulations beyond purely economic concerns.
This week, House Republicans will likely approve bills to delay and/or weaken EPA rules that would reduce mercury and other emissions from boilers, incinerators and cement kilns. President Obama has threatened to veto those bills, as well as the recently passed “TRAIN Act,” which would delay EPA regulations on cross-state pollution from coal fire power plant.
“EPA is moving ahead promulgating major, job-destroying regulations on the basis of shaky and often secret science,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., chairman of the subcommittee, in calling the agency’s studies “press release science.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council blasted today’s hearing, saying that Republicans on the subcommittee stacked the witness panel with outsider viewpoints instead of bringing a group that accurately reflects scientific knowledge of how air pollution affects public health.
“What you saw today was a lot of carping around the edges about stuff that doesn’t undermine the core conclusion,” said John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the New York-based group.
A researcher who specializes in environmental medicine defended the science behind how EPA wrote new ozone standards, as well as the standards for other pollutants.
Inhaling ozone can weaken the immune system and cause lung inflammation, which “can make the elderly more susceptible to pneumonia, a major cause of illness and death in this age group,” George Thurston, professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, told the subcommittee.
EPA is advised on air-quality standards by the Clean Air Standards Advisory Committee, an independent group of academic and private sector scientists. EPA research shows that the public enjoys reduced pollution that provides health benefits, “including decreased asthma attacks, fewer hospital admissions, fewer heart attacks, and increased length and quality of life,” Thurston, a former member of the air-standards committee, said in written testimony.
Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., top Democrat on the subcommittee, accused Republicans of hypocrisy with their economic concerns about EPA rules.
“Demonizing the EPA by making specious claims that their regulations kill jobs, also without any particularly well-grounded basis, while ignoring all benefits for public health and the economy is another cynical effort to gain votes and to get Americans to vote against their own self-interest,” Miller said in opening remarks.