The state agency responsible for protecting Texans against harmful chemicals said on Tuesday that it opposed federal efforts to lower smog levels because most people had air conditioners and spent “90 percent of their time indoors.”
For years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has avoided tightening regulations on Ozone, which is also known as smog. But after a unanimous panel of scientists recently agreed that the current standard of 75 parts per billion was unacceptable, the agency was expected to propose a 60 parts per billion standard by Dec. 1.
But Republicans in Congress have vowed to oppose the EPA’s tougher standards. And on Monday, Texas joined the fight.
In an article published on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website, top state toxicologist Dr. Michael Honeycutt announced that the agency had concluded that “there will be little to no public health benefit from lowering the current standard.”
Honeycutt argued that the EPA’s own report showed that there could be a slight uptick in the rate of premature deaths for a short period of time because lowering nitrogen oxide could temporarily increase ozone levels. Regulation of nitrogen oxide is necessary to lower Ozone levels — and save many more lives — over the long term, according to the EPA.
Experts told the Texas Tribune that Honeycutt had taken the wrong lesson from the EPA’s study.
“That doesn’t mean that you don’t quit smoking,” Environmental Defense Fund senior health scientist Elena Craft explained. The EPA’s information about premature deaths “does not mean pollution is good for you. It means that you need to double down on the efforts to reduce emissions in the air,” she said.
Honeycutt also argued that the trillions of dollars that lowering ozone levels was expected to cost nationwide would not be worth the effort because people spent most of their time indoors.
“Ozone is an outdoor air pollutant, because systems such as air conditioning remove it from indoor air. Since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, we (and the people in the epidemiology studies used to justify lowering the standard) are rarely exposed to significant levels of ozone,” Honeycutt wrote, adding that people who were “near death” and more susceptible to ozone spent even more time indoors.
Texas Tech University assistant professor of atmospheric science Jennifer Vanos pointed out a flaw in Honeycutt’s logic.
“By ignoring that and ignoring ozone and saying it’s okay, what we’re going to do is resulting in people spending even more time indoors, which we don’t want either,” she noted.