The following editorial originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times:
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider dozens of actions taken by the Trump administration. One of the most important on that list was the last-minute decision in December 2020 to keep in place outdated health standards for smog.
Now, instead of moving to strengthen the nation’s limits on ozone — the lung-searing gas in smog — the administration is delaying action until after the November 2024 election.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced last week that rather than fix the Trump administration’s decision, the agency would start over again with an entirely new review.
This needless delay will harm people across the country by making them wait longer for relief from ozone pollution that inflames the lungs, triggering asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses that sicken people and can require hospitalization and cut lives short. It’s been nearly eight years since these standards were updated and with this decision that’s likely to stretch beyond a decade.
It’s all the more infuriating because the inaction is cloaked in the language of scientific integrity and the need for additional study. Paralysis by analysis, as the saying goes.
Reviewing and updating air quality standards every five years to reflect the latest science, as required by the Clean Air Act, is one of the most important environmental actions a president can take. But ozone is such a widespread and hard-to-clean pollutant it’s one of the most highly politicized, too.
More protective standards will force the nation’s polluting industries, including factories, oil and gas operations and power plants, to do more to clean up. Business interests and local officials don’t like that, and as a result, presidents of both parties have chosen to delay action. It’s disappointing to see the Biden administration join that list.
Regan has sought to reorient the EPA around environmental justice, but his actions undermine his words because air pollution hits communities of color hardest. It’s worth remembering that many of the same actions needed to curb smog-forming pollution also reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, and would help put the administration on track to meeting its ambitious climate targets.
Environmental groups who have decried the agency’s delay are urging new health standards by the end of 2025, a reasonable demand. But the timeline the agency has provided so far suggests it won’t be anywhere near that quick.
The EPA should at the very least commit to that timeline, while working on other rules to speed up the nation’s progress on cutting smog. When it comes to pollution that is continually harming communities and damaging children’s developing lungs, clean air delayed is clean air denied. And that’s almost as bad as doing nothing at all.