Before the Environmental Protection Agency began regulating air quality across the country, days when pollution would get trapped by stagnant air and temperature inversions could quite literally turn deadly. The Clean Air Act of 1970 set national standards to limit air emissions of six conventional pollutants, including ozone and fine particle pollution. To meet these standards, sources of air pollution including factories, power plants, and cars had to switch to cleaner fuels or install equipment to filter out harmful air emissions.
The law also required the EPA to reassess these standards every five years, taking new research into account and using the best available science to protect public health.
However, the White House’s April call to streamline and make the review process more friendly to industry could change how the standards are set. The agency’s response, according to scientists and former EPA officials, suggests the decision may shift from one based purely on scientific evidence to one influenced by policy and economic costs.
The EPA has already proposed to ban key research studies from being included during regulatory reviews—a bid for greater transparency, according to officials, but a move that will make it harder to base decisions on what will protect human health. Last year, the EPA began changing the composition of the independent air advisory board that reviews the EPA's work by barring scientists who receive EPA grants for research, thereby paving the way for more industry-funded scientists.