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September 9, 2011


Washington Letter
September 9, 2011
Newsletter of the American Thoracic Society's Washington Office

1150 18th Street NW
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone:(202) 296-9770


Obama Stops Ozone Rule

Last week, President Obama announced that his administration would not issue a revised Clean Air Act standard for ozone pollution.  In his press release, the President states, “…I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover. With that in mind, and after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time.”  Instead, the Administration plans to review the current ozone standard as part of the next five-year review cycle scheduled for 2013/2014.

Obama’s decision is strongly opposed by the American Thoracic Society.  “What President Obama called a ‘regulatory burden’ is what we physicians call a protective health standard,” said ATS President-Elect Monica Kraft, MD.  The ATS has played a leading role in advocating a stricter ozone standard.  A number of peer-reviewed published studies, including in the Blue Journal, has shown that exposure to ozone at levels below the current standard is dangerous to human health.  Studies have demonstrated that ozone causes reduced lung function, inflammation, emergency room visits, hospitalization and premature death. 

The President’s announcement left many unanswered questions.  Most notably is confusion on exactly what is the current EPA ozone standard.  The EPA is now enforcing the 84 ppb standard set during the Clinton Administration.  However, a stricter standard of 75 ppb was made final during the Bush Administration, but never enforced due to legal challenges from the environmental community who felt the standard was not strict enough.  The environmental community suspended their legal action after the Obama Administration promised to issue a revised (and presumably stricter) standard.  Now that the Administration has failed to fulfill that a promise, the status of 75 ppb standard is in doubt.

Also in doubt is the President’s commitment to other important Clean Air rules that are expected in the near future, including a final air toxics rule that will for the first time address mercury and other air toxic emissions from oil and coal-fired power plants, a particulate matter standard and green house gas rules that were expected shortly.

The ATS will continue to pressure the administration to honor is statutory obligations under the Clean Air Act and issue a final rule on ozone and other important Clean Air Act standards.


ATS Opposes Cigar-Friendly Legislation

The ATS joined 40 other public health organization in a letter to the House of Representatives opposing legislation (H.R. 1639) that would exempt most cigars cigarillos and blunts from any regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.  If enacted, this legislation would severely undermine the authority of FDA to address tobacco disease and addiction in the United States.  It would also grant the tobacco industry continued use of deceptive business practices to entice new smokers, particularly kids.  Cigars, cigarillos and blunts frequently use kid appealing flavoring, like “Swisher Sweets Sweet Chocolate Blunts,” “Phillies Sugarillos Cigarillos,” “White Owl Grape Blunts Xtras” and “Optimo Peach Blunts.” 


Deficit Super-Committee Meets

This week, the 12 members of the Joint-Select Committee on Deficit Reduction convened its first meeting.  The "Super Committee" is tasked with drafting a 10-year plan to reduce the federal deficit with $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in savings by a deadline of November 23.

The business of the meeting focused on member opening statements and the setting of committee rules.  Super-Committee co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) both issued optimistic statements, indicating that they believe the committee can meet this goal and produce a realistic plan. Several members, including Sens. Kyle (R-TX), Kerry (D-MA) and Baucus (D-MT) called for the committee to find savings over the target amount of $1.5 trillion. Other members, such as Rep. Becerra (D-CA), Van Hollen (D-MD), and Toomey (R-PA) called for inclusion of tax reform in the committee's plan, including the closing of tax loopholes.

The committee will hold its first hearing on September 13, when it will call the director of the Congressional Budget Office to testify. Some of the committee's meetings may be held in closed session. If the panel fails to produce an agreement and/or the Congress fails to pass it by January 2012, automatic across-the-board spending cuts of at least $1.2 trillion will go into effect, with half coming from security-related programs and half from non-security related programs and Medicare providers (not beneficiaries). Social Security, Medicaid, VA benefits, SSI, WIC and other low-income support programs are exempt.


Senate Committee Approves Children's Hospitals GME Bill

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Harkin (D-IA), unanimously passed legislation to renew the children's hospitals graduate medical education (CGME) program. The Children's Hospitals GME Support Act, sponsored by Sens. Casey (D-PA) and Isakson (R-GA), renews the program through 2016.

The CHGME program provides GME funding to support residency training, including pediatric pulmonary training, in children's hospitals. The program is particularly important to addressing the national shortage of pediatric specialists. Although there are only about 60 children’s hospitals nationwide, 40 percent of all pediatricians and half of all pediatric specialists, are trained in children’s hospitals. While other hospitals receive funding for their training programs through Medicare Graduate Medical Education, children’s hospitals do not receive this funding because they treat children rather than the elderly.

With quick and bipartisan approval by the HELP Committee, the bill is expected to pass the Senate soon. A companion House bill has already passed the Energy and Commerce Committee.


House Panel Postpones Health Spending Bill

The House Labor-Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Rehberg (R-MT), postponed a vote this week on the FY2012 health spending bill, known as the Labor-HHS bill. The subcommittee has not yet announced a rescheduled date. House leaders also recently announced that there will be no House floor votes in September on individual appropriations bills but instead there will be House floor votes during the week of September 19 on an omnibus spending bill to fund all government programs. In light of this announcement, it is unclear what the House FY2012 Labor-HHS bill's prospects will be.



The Washington Letter is written by the American Thoracic Society government relations office and emailed to all ATS members living in the United States. The letter keeps clinicians, scientists, and patients abreast of legislative, judicial, and regulatory issues in pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. Each week's edition is archived on the ATS Web site, www.thoracic.org. If you have any questions or one more information about becoming involved in advocacy, please contact the ATS Washington office at 202-296-9770.