Policy Analysis No. 168

The Truth About Ozone and Urban Smog

Executive Summary

When the Environmental Protection Agency released its 17th annual report, National Air Quality and Emissions Trends Report, 1989, on March 5, 1991, EPA administrator William K. Reilly announced both good and bad news. The good news was that, from 1982 through 1989, atmospheric smog levels fell by 14 percent. The bad news, however, was “the magnitude of the air pollution problem still remaining,” given that “sixty- seven million people are living in counties exceeding the smog standard.”[1]

In fact, the March 1991 annual report was but one episode in the EPA’s continuing saga of factual misrepresentation and statistical manipulation of the data on urban smog. By refusing to fully acknowledge and appropriately correct for the role of weather in urban ozone trends; by not calling attention to positive preliminary data for 1989, 1990, and 1991 in a timely manner, even though it had to negative preliminary data in 1988; by misrepresenting the meaning of ozone “nonattainment”; and by failing to differentiate between distinctly California ozone problems and those of the other 49 states, the EPA has purposefully and cynically misled the nation about the true extent of urban smog. The price of the EPA’s misrepresentation will be paid by the American people, who will unnecessarily spend billions of dollars and possibly sacrifice tens of thousands of jobs to solve a problem that exists only in the minds of EPA bureaucrats and environmental advocacy groups.

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K. H. Jones is president of Zephyr Consulting Co., an independent firm based in Seattle, Washington. He prepared the chapter on air quality status and trends of the Council on Environmental Quality’s annual reports for 1975 through 1979. Since then he has written three other annual report chapters as a consultant. Jones acknowledges the technical assistance provided by Chris McEnany of RZA-AGRA in Seattle and Steve Mauch of West Chester, Pennsylvania.