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Leaders Call on EPA to Make Background Ozone Workshop Open to Public

02/23/2016

EPA planning closed-door workshop in Arizona on Wednesday

Phoenix, Arizona (February 23, 2016). – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona this week (February 24-25) focused on background ozone, which poses a serious challenge for states trying to come into compliance with EPA’s stringent new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone.  Background ozone is the ozone that occurs naturally or due to factors beyond local control.  Despite EPA claims that the purpose of this workshop is to “advance the collective understanding of technical and policy issues associated with background ozone,” they are meeting behind closed doors with state regulators – blocking the American people and the news media from viewing the important exchange.  In an unprecedented move, the EPA is only allowing the public and local stakeholders access to the second day of the workshop. Moreover, EPA has made no attempt to make the event accessible to the broader public who are concerned about the standard, but are unable to travel to Arizona to participate in person.

EPA has been very creative in their effort to “get the message out.” For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA went so far as to violate federal law by engaging in “covert propaganda” through their aggressive use of social media. According to a New York Times article, an EPA spokesperson explained, “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities.” If that is indeed the case, why not open the doors of the workshop or make video of the hearing available on the internet? The workshop in Phoenix is an important opportunity to inform the public.

The issue of background ozone has been of particular importance to lawmakers, state air regulators and the public. Last year Senator Michael Bennet (D) and Colorado Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper expressed concerns with EPA’s proposal to tighten the ozone standard based especially on challenges associated with background ozone. There concerns were confirmed earlier this year by the EPA in a white paper that admitted the Denver metro region would be unable to meet the new standard in large part because of background ozone.

Today, national and state business leaders called on the EPA to support a transparent and open process by allowing the public to attend both days of the workshop:

“State regulatory agencies have raised serious concerns to EPA about their ability to comply with the new lower standard, in large part due to background ozone.  The American people deserve the opportunity to hear these concerns directly from the air quality experts and not be shut out by the EPA. It is wrong for the federal government to operate behind closed doors when the EPA’s stated purpose is to ‘advance the collective understanding.’” – Karen Kerrigan, President of the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

“As a scientist who has worked for decades at the interface between science and policy, I favor open and transparent dialogue among all the parties – it enhances public trust.  Closed meetings with restricted attendance raise suspicions.  I hope EPA will reverse course and open both meetings to all stakeholders, including members of the public.  There are tough issues concerning background ozone, especially in the west, that must be addressed in an equitable manner to avoid punishing westerners who treasure both the environment and jobs.” – Roger McClellan, past chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, former chair of the National Council’s Committee on Toxicology and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Air Quality Experts on Background Ozone: