Get the Lead Out

Matt Shudtz

July 24, 2009

The Bush Administration’s anti-regulatory henchmen in the Office of Management and Budget are at it again – fighting to keep EPA and state environmental agencies in the dark about how much pollution is being emitted into the air.


On October 16, EPA announced that it was slashing the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) to 0.15 µg/m³. (Side note: EPA’s 90-percent reduction in permissible lead levels is good, but it’s still on the high side of the 0.05 – 0.2 µg/m³ that its scientific advisory board suggested.) In order to enforce the new standard, EPA included in the rule new requirements for the number and location of lead monitoring stations. EPA requires a lead monitor for any facility that produces more than one ton of airborne lead per year.


But the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported last week that OMB, after last-minute closed-door meetings with the lead battery industry, pressured EPA to change the monitoring requirements. According to the Ledger-Enquirer:

A close look at documents publicly available, including e-mails from the EPA to the White House Office of Management and Budget, reveals that the OMB objected to the way the EPA had determined which lead-emitting battery recycling plants and other facilities would have to be monitored.


EPA documents show that until the afternoon of Oct. 15, a court-imposed deadline for issuing the revised standard, the EPA proposed to require a monitor for any facility that emitted half a ton of lead or more a year.


The e-mails indicate that the White House objected, and in the early evening of Oct. 15 the EPA set the level at 1 ton a year instead.

This is just one more instance of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson changing his mind about air pollution policy to suit OMB. The most notorious example, of course, is his 180-degree turn on the California car emissions waiver.


The Ledger-Enquirer notes that EPA’s weakened lead monitoring requirements reduced the number of monitored sites from 346 to 134 facilities. The article also links to a cool utility on NRDC’s website that enables you to find out if the change will affect your neighborhood.


As it happens, my South Baltimore neighborhood is about a mile away from a plant that emits just over 1,000 pounds of lead per year, putting it in that critical “more than a half ton, but less than a full ton” range. Off the top of my head, I can count six elementary, middle, and high schools in the area – all of them filled with kids on whom EPA and the White House have just turned their back, at the behest of the lead battery industry.


Update/Clarification: In fact, as a metropolitan area with more than 500,000 residents, local officials would be required under the plan to install one monitoring station in the area to measure ambient lead concentrations. Of course, by the rule, that one monitoring station could be situated anywhere within the Baltimore metro area, which includes seven counties covering a total of more than 3100 square miles, a quarter of Maryland’s total area.

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