Revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards: The integration of science and policy

Jacqueline Smith, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Under the Clean Air Act, Congress granted discretionary decision making authority to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This discretionary authority involves setting standards to protect the public's health with an "adequate margin of safety" based on current scientific knowledge. The Administrator of the EPA is usually not a scientist, and for the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM), the Administrator faced the task of revising a standard when several scientific factors were ambiguous. These factors included: (1) no identifiable threshold below which health effects are not manifested, (2) no biological basis to explain the reported associations between particulate matter and adverse health effects, and (3) no consensus among the members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) as to what an appropriate PM indicator, averaging period, or value would be for the revised standard. This project recommends and demonstrates a tool, integrated assessment (IA), to aid the Administrator in making a public health policy decision in the face of ambiguous scientific factors. IA is an interdisciplinary approach to decision making that has been used to deal with complex issues involving many uncertainties, particularly climate change analyses. Two IA approaches are presented; a rough set analysis by which the expertise of CASAC members can be better utilized, and a flag model for incorporating the views of stakeholders into the standard setting process. The rough set analysis can describe minimal and maximal conditions about the current science pertaining to PM and health effects. Similarly, a flag model can evaluate agreement or lack of agreement by various stakeholder groups to the proposed standard in the PM review process. The use of these IA tools will enable the Administrator to (1) complete the NAAQS review in a manner that is in closer compliance with the Clean Air Act, (2) expand the input from CASAC, (3) take into consideration the views of the stakeholders, and (4) retain discretionary decision making authority.

Subject Area

Public health|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Smith, Jacqueline, "Revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards: The integration of science and policy" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3259237.