By: Molly Rauch, Public Health Policy Director, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: September 1, 2020
About: Environmental Protection Agency Review of NAAQS for Ozone Docket ID No. EPA-HQOAR-2018-0279
To: Environmental Protection Agency
Thank you for the opportunity to comment today. I am public health policy director for Moms Clean Air Force. Yesterday, I was heartened to hear the voices of moms, dads, doctors, nurses, scientists, even children from across the country, taking precious time from their families, lives, and jobs to speak up to protect our health from ozone. Many of the testimonies touched on the inadequacy of the proposal; the well-documented health harms at levels below 70ppb; the shoddy scientific basis for Administrator Wheeler’s decision, made in the absence of robust scientific expertise or guidance; the role of climate change in making ozone levels worse; and we’ve also heard painful stories about the health impacts of breathing ozone.
As the weight of the evidence shows, and as the vast majority of stakeholders at this hearing affirm, EPA’s proposal to retain the current standards is too weak. The standards as proposed, will lead to more kids having asthma attacks. More missed school days. More lung infections. Worsening of dangerous chronic conditions like
COPD. And more children whose lung development is impaired. We need a stronger ozone NAAQS of 60ppb to protect human health, with an adequate margin of safety, in accordance with the science.
All this would be more than enough for public outcry. But there has also been a systematic effort to cast aside public input on this proposal.
The timeline of the comment period is appallingly short and seems deliberately designed to stifle public participation. EPA has provided only 48 days, in total, for public comment. Even in the absence of a deadly respiratory infection that has upended our lives, this would be way too short. The last time EPA reviewed the ozone NAAQS, 5 years ago, it provided a 90-day comment period. This time around, when unprecedented circumstances make it harder than ever for the public to engage, EPA has offered no reason whatsoever why the comment period should be half that length. Indeed, this comment period is short even compared to other recent comment periods. When EPA proposed to retain the PM NAAQS earlier this spring, it gave the public 60 days, significantly more than that provided for ozone. Moms Clean Air Force has joined EDF and other partners in submitting a request for extension of the comment period. Our request has thus far been ignored by the agency.
There are other problems with this process, including the fact that several of our volunteers did not receive time slots despite signing up, and that there is no way for people to get day-of slots to testify or listen unless they registered last week. Pre-registration is hardly an adequate way to allow for day-of participation. These represent choices, not requirements. These are the choices of an administrator who does not want to hear our voices.
And then I came across some records, requested under FOIA by the Environmental Defense Fund and posted yesterday on their website, which I would like to share with you today. These records concern ethics filings by Mandy Gunasekara, who became EPA’s Chief of Staff in March.
In April, EPA’s Ethics Office gave Ms. Gunasekara a 45-day COVID-related extension for filing her financial disclosure and recusal forms. Ms. Gunasekara readily accepted this extension on what is presumably a top priority: determining what she could and could not work on. The Chief of Staff, and the Ethics Office, recognized that COVID was a legitimate reason to delay even this urgent priority, showing us that EPA understands that COVID is highly disruptive.
The hypocrisy here is rich. EPA’s Chief of Staff took 45 days of extra time to fill out her ethics forms because of COVID, and two months later, advocacy groups, health professionals, and parents are literally begging EPA for more time to comment on the ozone NAAQS - because of COVID.
The same way Ms. Gunasekara may have needed more time to complete her ethics forms, the public needs more time to review the consequential ozone NAAQS, one of the most important air pollution policies we have.
There are many flaws with this process, as we have heard during this hearing. But if EPA persists in proceeding on the current flawed record, the agency should at least give the public its COVID extension.