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Senator Feinstein Calls on EPA Administrator Johnson to Explain Why He Overruled Recommendation of Scientific Advisors

- Expert Panel had provided “overwhelming scientific evidence” that ozone exposure leads to adverse health effects; recommended stricter air pollution standard -

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today called on EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to explain why he overruled the recommendation of scientific advisors, and decided to issue a weaker standard for air pollution. Senator Feinstein chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.  Feinstein also asked Administrator Johnson to address the White House’s role in the matter, given the reports which suggest that it may have influenced a key part of his decision regarding ozone standards.

On Wednesday, Administrator Johnson announced that he would set a standard of 75 parts per billion for the primary ozone standard, the national standards for air pollution. His scientific advisors had recommended a stronger standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion, based on “overwhelming scientific evidence” that exposure to smog and air pollution can adversely affect public health. 

Following is the text of the letter by Senator Feinstein to EPA Administrator Johnson today:

March 14, 2008

The Honorable Stephen Johnson
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20460

Dear Administrator Johnson,

When you revised the Clean Air Act’s standards for ozone on Wednesday, you had before you your own scientific advisory committee’s recommendations to set a standard anywhere from 60 to 70 parts per billion.   I write to inquire why you refused to set a standard anywhere within the range recommended by your own scientists, but instead set the standard yesterday at a less protective 75 parts per billion.

As mandated by the Clean Air Act, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) is made up of many of the nation’s leading experts on air pollution.  Last year the Ozone Review Panel of CASAC found “overwhelming scientific evidence” for its recommendation of 60 to 70 parts per billion for the primary ozone standard.   This “overwhelming scientific evidence” included “EPA’s own findings in the Ozone Air Quality Criteria Document (AQCD) and the Final Ozone Staff Paper.”

I understand that the scientific literature demonstrates a clear association between ozone exposure and numerous serious adverse health effects, including premature mortality, hospitalizations and emergency room visits for cardiopulmonary causes, reduced lung function, and school absences.   I also understand that recent studies have strengthened concern about these health effects at lower levels of ozone exposure.

I am extremely concerned that your ozone standard is weaker and less protective of public health than what your own scientific advisors recommended based on “overwhelming scientific evidence”.  You are required by the Clean Air Act to set your standard based on what the science shows is needed to protect public health.  Can you provide a rationale for why you departed from the “overwhelming scientific evidence” presented by your scientific advisors?

Recent news reports also indicate that the White House may have influenced your decision regarding the secondary ozone standard needed to protect public welfare, including wildlife, parks and farmland.  

  • Did the President or anyone from the Executive Office of the President interfere, comment, or advise EPA to set a different standard than the standard recommended by EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board?
  • Did EPA alter its ozone standard at the advice, request, or prompting of the President or the White House?  If not, please explain why the EPA reportedly weakened its proposed standard after it was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review.
  • What was the scientific basis for making changes that were less protective of public welfare than EPA had proposed?  Please provide copies of all new scientific evidence presented by President Bush, the White House and the Office of Management and Budget that formed the scientific basis for rejecting the conclusions of EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board.
  • Did EPA consult with the Scientific Advisory Board on the scientific evidence presented by the White House?  If so, what were the board’s conclusions?
  • Did you consider the implications of the less stringent standards on existing litigation?
  • Did Solicitor General Paul D. Clement communicate with anyone at EPA to express the belief that the revised EPA ozone rules contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court?

California faces serious public health and welfare dangers from air pollution. And I’m concerned that your decision will slow our efforts to address this critical problem.

I look forward to your prompt response on this public health issue.


Senator Dianne Feinstein                             
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies