Proposed EPA ozone rule could suffocate the economy

by Daniel James Devine
Posted 11/26/14, 02:10 pm

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a reduction in the amount of allowable ozone in the air Americans breathe. The new limit is supposed to improve human health, but opponents say the benefits are exaggerated and the rule will create “massive and disruptive” economic challenges for businesses.

“Today, following science and the law, I am proposing to update national ozone pollution standards to clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk—our children, our elderly, and people already suffering from lung diseases like asthma,” wrote Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator, in a CNNMoney op-ed announcing the new rules.

The current legal limit for ground-level ozone, 75 parts per billion, was established in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration. Wednesday’s proposal would lower the amount of allowable ozone to between 65 and 70 parts per billion. (The EPA is also seeking comments on whether to lower the standard to 60 parts per billion.) McCarthy claims lowering the standard will prevent nearly a million asthma attacks in children, and prevent hundreds of emergency room visits for adults, resulting in $38 billion in health benefits by 2025.

Ozone, composed of three oxygen molecules, exists in a layer in the upper atmosphere and also is found in small amounts near Earth’s surface. It is produced by lightning and can be formed by industrial pollutants. In high enough concentrations, it is a lung irritant.

Paul Driessen, a senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, said it’s “absurd” to think a 5 to 10 parts per billion reduction in ozone would improve public health or the environment. “The proposed standards are below ozone levels naturally occurring in Teton County, Wyo., the home of Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, and next door to Yellowstone National Park,” Driessen said, according to The Heartland Institute.

The president of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, said in a statement the new rules aren’t necessary to improve air quality because the states are only now implementing the 2008 ozone standards. The EPA has not yet finished writing the 2008 implementation guidelines. To meet even lower standards, states would presumably need to require industries to install costly controls to further limit air emissions.

“Tightening these standards could be the most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public, with potentially enormous costs to the economy, jobs, and consumers,” Gerard said.

A July study from NERA Economic Consulting found lowering the ozone standard could cost trillions of dollars. It estimated a standard of 60 parts per billion would reduce U.S. economic output by $3.4 trillion through 2040, and result in 2.9 million fewer jobs.

The EPA was under a federal court order to release the proposed standards by Dec. 1. It originally planned to propose a lower ozone standard in 2011, but President Barack Obama forced the agency to delay the proposal. Environmental and health advocates sued as a result, and the court sided with them, imposing the December deadline.

The EPA is not mandated to lower the ozone limits. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to determine what amount of pollution is safe for public health, without regard to economic impact. It will take public comments on its proposal and must make a decision by next October.

Many environmental and public health advocates are cheering the proposal and hoping Obama—who no longer faces election challenges—approves the measure as a way of fortifying a liberal environmental legacy.

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and leads WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate or a former science and technology reporter. Daniel resides in Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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