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As Prepared for Administrator Johnson, Press Conference Call Regarding National Ozone Standards – Final Rule Announcement, Washington, D.C.

03/12/2008
Thank you for joining me on this call.

Today, EPA is meeting the requirement of the Clean Air Act by signing the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone – a primary component of smog.

As you all know, America’s air is cleaner today than it was a generation ago. And this success hasn’t happened by accident. By issuing or implementing historic initiatives, President Bush and EPA are keeping our nation’s clean air progress moving forward.

For instance, the landmark Clean Air Interstate Rule will achieve the largest reduction in air pollution in more than a decade – cutting power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide by 70 percent and nitrogen oxides by 60 percent in the eastern United States.

Also, the Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule will cut emission levels from construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment by more than 90 percent.

In addition, this Friday I will be signing the Clean Diesel Locomotive and Marine Rule, which will cut particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions from these engines.

And when EPA’s clean diesel rules are fully implemented, the use of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel combined with new engine technology will substantially enhance environmental protection and prevent over 20,000 premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of respiratory ailments each year.

Since 1980, we have reduced ozone levels nationwide by more than 20 percent, even while our economy has more than doubled. The historic initiatives I mentioned, as well as targeted state efforts, will continue to produce deeper cuts in the coming years.

The regulation I signed today is compelled by the Clean Air Act and the most recent scientific data on the effects of ozone on human health. Since EPA last updated the ozone standards in 1997, scientific studies have indicated that ozone’s health impacts are more significant and certain than we previously understood.

Based on our most recent scientific evidence, and as directed by provisions of the Clean Air Act, EPA has strengthened the public health standard from effectively 0.084 parts per million to a new standard of 0.075 parts per million.

In addition, EPA has set a “secondary” standard for ozone at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The secondary standard was set in order to meet EPA’s responsibility to address “welfare” effects under the Clean Air Act.

And while I met the requirements of the Clean Air Act and significantly strengthened the ozone standard, the fact is 36 communities still have ozone levels higher than the 1997 standard. Another fact is that of the 31 states with communities that did not meet the previous standard in 2004, eight have missed legal deadlines for submitting portions of their implementation plans for reducing ozone pollution.

Although we are not making non-attainment determinations at this time, our current data shows that 345 counties with ozone monitors will not meet the more protective new standard we set today. Actual non-attainment designations will be made in 2010, and the areas determined to be out of attainment will have three years to develop plans to meet the standard and – depending upon the severity of the problem – up to 20 years to comply.

As Administrator, I have now signed two wide-ranging air quality standards – one for particulate matter, and now one for ozone. And in the coming months, I will address the NAAQS standard for lead. In the process of navigating the requirements of the law, I have come to see the strengths and limitations of the Clean Air Act, and the need to change it for the better.

For instance, during the decision-making process for ozone, the Agency received hundreds of comments from state governors, local officials and others asking EPA to take into account the costs, net benefits and implementation challenges of more stringent standards. Yet, under the Clean Air Act, I was prohibited from considering any of these factors.

I was also urged to strengthen the ozone standard beyond the level established by my final decision. And while I appreciated all of their perspectives, it was clear their comments were divided between setting stronger standards on paper and the feasibility of meeting those standards in the real world.

The range of viewpoints in the process expressed and my own experience in addressing the mandates of the Clean Air Act led me to realize something needed to be fixed.

Bottom line: It’s time to modernize the Clean Air Act to improve public health.

For 38 years, the Clean Air Act has served the nation well by setting ambitious standards and delivering real results. And during its first 20 years, it was updated to reflect advances in science, technology and policy tools. But it’s been nearly two decades since most of the Clean Air Act was last in the shop. Now is the time to begin the public debate to modernize and upgrade its components.

So today, I am pleased to announce four principles upon which the Administration will base legislative proposals to modernize the Clean Air Act. Congress has adopted many of these principles in other environmental statues, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA has also used them to great success in our recent Clean Air Interstate Rule and Off-Road Diesel Rule. It’s time to bring the common-sense aspects of these policies to the criteria used to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards, known as NAAQS. I look forward to discussing the following principles with Congress and working with the Administration to provide specific legislative language in the future.

First, I believe the Clean Air Act legislation should protect the public health and improve the overall well-being of our citizens.

Second, it should allow decision-makers to consider benefits, costs, risk tradeoffs, and feasibility in making decisions about how to clean the air.

Third, the Clean Air Act legislation should provide greater accountability and effective enforcement to ensure not only paper requirements but also air quality requirements are met, especially in areas with the furthest to go in meeting our standards.

And finally, it should allow the schedule for addressing NAAQS standards to be driven by the available science and the prioritization of health and environmental concerns, taking into account the multi-pollutant nature of air pollution.

The Clean Air Act is not a relic to be displayed in the Smithsonian, but a living document that must be refurbished to continue realizing results. So while the standards I signed today may be strict, we have a responsibility to overhaul and enhance the Clean Air Act to ensure it translates from paper promises into cleaner air.

Thank you, and I’d be happy to take your questions.