Hold your breath


ou probably already saw the news story on the subject of this release from the Southern Environmental Law Center that came in Wednesday, but I thought you might be interested in the graphic above, so I pass it on now.

The SELC’s point is that the EPA’s new standard isn’t stringent enough. That seems like a bit like arguing about the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin from a Columbia standpoint, though: We can’t even meet the lower standard. The release:

South Carolina Upstate and Midlands still plagued by
unhealthy air, according to EPA
new standard fails to adequately protect public health, say environmentalists
and public health professionals

Chapel Hill, NC – New standards released today by the Environmental Protection Agency show most of the South Carolina Upstate and Midlands have unhealthy levels of ozone, including the Florence region, home to a new power plant proposal that will increase the region’s ozone levels. The new standards go further to protect the public’s health from ozone pollution, but fall short of the recommendations of public health professionals and EPA’s own scientists which recommended stronger protections.

“Unfortunately EPA has chosen to bow to political interests over the public’s health by releasing a ozone standard that falls short of the recommendations of  doctors and other public health professionals.  The fact that more cities than ever are being tagged as having unhealthy air should serve as a wake up call to all South Carolinians that this is a widespread and protracted problem,”  said David Farren, senior attorney with the non profit Southern Environmental Law Center.

Under the new standard, Columbia, and Greenville are expected to remain in violation of the federal standard, otherwise known as being in “nonattainment,” while smaller cities such as Chester, Lancaster, Newberry and Seneca will likely be added to the list. These areas will face deadlines to reach the new standard or risk federal sanctions including tighter smokestacks controls and the possible loss of federal highway money. 

“What we’re seeing is that unhealthy air is not just an urban problem,” said Farren. “Even small and mid-sized cities are going to have to tackle their air problems in order to protect the health of their citizens.”

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must set air quality standards at levels that protect public health, including sensitive populations, with an adequate margin of safety. In 1997, EPA set the national air quality standard for ozone at 0.08 parts per million (ppm) averaged over an eight hour period. The standard announced today is a slightly more stringent 0.075 ppm. However, in 2006, an EPA panel of scientists and public health experts unanimously recommended strengthening the ozone standard even lower, to within the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm, to adequately protect public health.

Power plants are a leading contributor to ozone pollution. In fact, the proposed Pee Dee plant will emit 3500 tons of ozone-forming nitrogen oxides each year under the existing draft air permit.

In addition to coal fired power plants, cars and trucks are among the biggest sources of ozone pollution in the South. To improve air quality, South Carolina must focus on strategies to reduce how much and how far its citizens drive such as investing in transportation alternatives and coordinating transportation and land use planning to reduce sprawl. Recently enacted reform of the state’s transportation department, if faithfully carried out, should aid in this work.

Lobbyists representing the oil, coal, electric power and manufacturing industries lobbied heavily against improved air pollution standards in the weeks leading up to the decision. However, EPA and OMB studies repeatedly show heath care costs and lost productivity far outweigh costs of clean up.

Ozone pollution, also known as smog, is known to trigger asthma attacks, reduce lung capacity, and has even been linked to heart disease and premature death. At its worst on hot, dry weather, ozone pollution causes officials to warn children and the elderly to stay indoors on many summer days. Children, whose respiratory systems are still developing, risk permanent loss of lung capacity through prolonged exposure to polluted air. For senior citizens, the natural decline in lung function that occurs with age is worsened by air pollution.

6 thoughts on “Hold your breath

  1. Lee Muller

    The junk science of Ozone Scares is ridiculous. How come all those hundreds of thousands of electronics and other factory workers survived working in areas fed by ozone generators for decades with no signs of any ill effects?

  2. Mike Cakora


    – no power-generating plants, especially coal-fired ones,
    – take away some folks cars and trucks,
    – limit sprawl by restricting where folks can build homes.

    Cool. What politicians should we elect to lead us in chains into the new Dark Ages?

  3. Uncle Elmer

    Why, back in the good old days, I could ride my horse all over town and never had to pick up after it. Then some “junk scientists” came up with the lame idea that walking in horse feces is bad and I needed to clean them. My grandparents walked in horse droppings every day and it never gave them any diseases! And they lived up into their FIFTIES! I just wish big government would get off our backs and let us live in as much horsesh** as we choose to! They’re going to put the perfumeries out of business if they keep this up.

  4. weldon VII

    My county’s not violating the ozone standard. We’re not literate enough, or rich enough, either. But the row crops are pretty.

  5. Mike Cakora

    Uncle Elmer – Your point is well taken: no one wants to live in a world of horse manure. That’s why I’m no fan of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) . In the name of environmental protection they spend their time and money fighting against economic development to the extent that their actions logically lead to a new Dark Ages.
    They don’t like coal. There’s a reasonable argument that can be made against coal-fired generating plants depending on a number of variables, but the SELC worldview does not allow them to engage in any sort of cost-benefit analysis. Coal is out because of ozone, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants it generates, but I notice that areas along the coast don’t have an ozone problem, so modern coal-fired plants out there would be legal.
    But let’s find something cleaner, like nuclear power. Well, the SELC are agin that too and even go so far as to fight uranium mining — think capital investment and good-paying jobs — in Virginia.
    I suppose they are big fans of windmills, solar power, and other unreliable power sources. Unreliable? Solar power works only when the sun’s rays hit those spots on Mother Gaia where the solar collectors are located; some days are sunny, other days are not. And the wind don’t blow all the time, as folks in Texas found last month when the loss of wind caused a power grid emergency.
    I assume that they are also big fans of conservation. So let us all install compact fluorescent lights (CFL) containing mercury; in four or five years the SELC will be screaming about the problems caused by disposing of the pollution-causing CFLs. The conservation angle is especially amusing since the next wave in environmentally-friendly automobile technology will be plug-in electric vehicles that use no petroleum product other than what’s necessary for lubrication. Folks will plug them in overnight — when the sun don’t shine — to charge them up for their commute and errands the next day. Where will that source of reliable power come from?
    The SELC is not contributing to the solution of providing reliable, safe power that makes economic sense. They seem to be using the law to create anonymous bureaucratic rules and entities that will raise the cost of power to all consumers and businesses, thereby strangling the economy, forcing most into extreme poverty. The idiotic result locally will be environmental degradation as folks burn pine forests for fuel. Why, that’s fantastic! (WTF!)
    The SELC’s solution to eliminating horse manure is to ban horses. We can do that, but then what will we do for food and transportation?

  6. Uncle Elmer

    The SELC’s usual command and control response is, I agree, stifling (and predictable). My usual response to them is to ignore them. However the news story they are responding to is important, and their response should not be emotionally entangled with the facts of the story (the first link, the important one). The facts are that the definition of “acceptable limit” will soon be changed and we will likely be in nonattainment after. This will impact our access to Federal funds (particularly for highway construction/maint I believe), will further tarnish our reputation, and will be a pointed reminder that we are choosing, once again, a lower standard of living than many people find acceptable.
    One thing I found very interesting about the story was its fixation on industry and electrical power. Many other states have dealt with their ozone problems (in part) by requiring emission inspections for their auto fleet. I have lived in some of those states, and it really isn’t a burden. Frankly it’s quite nice to drive down the road and not get trapped behind someone trailing visible plumes of smoke at 70 mph. I look forward to that day here.
    What I really regret about the SELCs response to the story (and the Governor’s, and your response also I’m afraid) is that all missed the opportunity for optimism: The new, tighter standard shows us a picture of what a better quality of life would look like. It encourages creative people to make roadmaps to figure out how to get us there, with maybe the little extra push from the Feds or State that greases the wheels for the new tech. THAT’S a neat thing to see, and I am looking forward to seeing it. To me it doesn’t look like the Dark Ages at all. Although tainted with cynicism I remain an optimist. Will whatever our response is have unintended consequences? Sure! But we can’t take the luxury of not being smart anymore.

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