The Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) refers to EPA regulations on ground-level ozone, a primary ingredient in smog linked to respiratory illnesses. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone and five other criteria pollutants, and to review the latest scientific information and standards every five years: "Before new standards are established, policy decisions undergo rigorous review by the scientific community, industry, public interest groups, the general public and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC)."
In January 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said tightening the nation's air-quality standard for ozone was "long overdue," and would save an estimated 12,000 lives a year and yield health benefits up to $100 billion annually in 2020.  The EPA is proposing to strengthen the 8-hour ozone standard to a level within the range of 0.060-0.070 parts per million (ppm), up from 0.075 ppm created in 2008, as "the ozone standards set in 2008 were not as protective as recommended by EPA’s panel of science advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The proposed  standards are consistent with CASAC’s recommendations."
The EPA's proposal has the support of the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association, and is consistent with the recommendation of a 23-member panel of clean-air experts who advised the agency on the issue after reviewing more than 1,700 studies.
Delay in new standard
In December 2010, the EPA said that it will not decide until July 2011 whether to tighten the national air-quality standard for ozone. In a Dec. 8 written statement, the EPA said it would ask the panel of clean-air experts for "further interpretation" of the studies they relied upon in making their recommendation, so as to ensure the agency's final decision "is grounded in the best science."
In a written statement after the EPA delay, the American Lung Associations said it was "exploring legal options" aimed at requiring the EPA to make a decision on the issue. Based on EPA's own estimates, the group added, a six-month delay means an estimated 2,000 to 6,000 people "will lose their lives because they must breathe air pollution that would have been cleaned up if the EPA had met its most recent deadline of December 31, 2010."
On September 2, 2011, the White House announced that it was overruling the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to adopt a stricter standard for ground-level ozone until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits in 2013. The rulemaking package prepared by the EPA before the move by Obama shows that the agency wanted to set the national air quality standard for ozone at 70 parts per billion.
Opposition to new standard
The American Petroleum Institute cheered the delay, and said it hoped the EPA "will now reconsider other costly and unworkable proposals," including its efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. Manufacturing and energy giants such as Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and American Electric Power have drawn upon their traditional "sound science" argument that the EPA has not proven the 60 ppb standard would save the number of lives the agency claims. Also, they say the EPA has underestimated the amount of ozone that forms naturally or drifts into the U.S. from abroad, like China. Natural (pre-industrial) ozone has been calculated at 0.01 - 0.02 ppm. The rule has also drawn criticism from lawmakers whose states depend heavily on coal, oil and manufacturing, including Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who on Dec. 8, 2010, was named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The agency has acknowledged that a standard of 60 ppb could cost businesses as much as $90 billion annually in 2020, although this is less than the EPA estimated health care savings of $100 billion. A 2010 report, "Expensive Neighbors: The Hidden Cost of Harmful Pollution to Downwind Employers and Businesses", also suggests the EPA underestimates the net savings from pollution regulations because it focuses almost exclusively on direct health costs, which does not capture the full impact of the pollution on the economy, such as "higher labor and health insurance costs, lost jobs, lost state and local tax revenue, and higher gasoline prices."
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- "Ozone Air Quality Standards" EPA, accessed December 2010.
- Stephen Power, "EPA Again Delays Tighter Ozone Restrictions" The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2010.
- "EPA Fact Sheet on proposed rule" (pdf) EPA, accessed December 2010.
- John Broder, "Obama abandons tougher ozone standard" Boston.com, Sep. 3, 2011.
- Gabriel Nelson, "EPA Reveals Jackson's Preferred Path on Ozone Rule" NY Times, Oct. 4, 2011.
- Sanford Silliman, "Overview: Tropospheric ozone, smog and ozone-NOx-VOC sensitivity" University of Michigan Outline, accessed December 2010.
- David Roberts, "New report shows dirty coal doing even more damage than you thought " Grist, Dec. 9, 2010.