The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Ozone Regulation and the 97 Percent

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 30, 2013

Later this year EPA is expected to propose stricter ozone standards that could lower the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) limit to 60 ppb. First, a map showing areas of the country (in red) that exceed current 75 ppb standards, enacted in 2008:

Air Quality

Certainly, areas in red have a ways to go to meet ozone standards – but, obviously, much of the country is in compliance. Now, a map showing (orange and red) how much of the U.S. would be out of compliance if standards were set at 60 ppb:

ozone regulations

We’ll do the calculating for you: At 60 ppb, 97 percent of the U.S. population would live in places out of compliance and subject to new emissions requirements. Virtually any human activity producing emissions could be restricted or affected. Howard Feldman, API’s director for regulatory and scientific affairs, talked about the potential impacts of changing ozone standards during a conference call with reporters. Key points:

  • The oil and natural gas industry has spent $252.8 billion since 1990 to improve its environmental performance.
  • EPA hasn’t identified compelling evidence for tightening the standards, which are working and will continue to work – because EPA and the states are just beginning to develop plans to meet the 2008 requirement.
  • The controls needed to achieve stricter ozone standards don’t exist today.
  • The potential for widespread economic harm from ozone standards at or below naturally occurring levels is real.

How real? Take another look at that second map. Feldman told reporters that in many places stricter standards would require ozone levels to be at or below peak background levels – including the nation’s parks and wilderness areas:

“Tightened standards could impose unachievable emission reduction requirements on virtually every part of the nation, including rural and undeveloped areas. These could be the costliest EPA regulations ever. … As you expand non-attainment you’re essentially putting up ‘closed-for-business’ signs in more and more places.”

The potential impact of stifling business activity and growth is plain. Lost jobs, lost opportunity, lower standards of living for affected Americans. There could be a similar economic impact from the costs of complying with more stringent standards, though that’s incalculable because the technology and processes to achieve such standards simply don’t exist yet. Feldman:

“In an impact analysis of the proposed ozone standards two years ago – standards probably similar to what EPA is considering today – EPA was unable to identify how the nation would comply.  It assumed that controls that don’t exist would somehow become available and cost-effective. Needless to say, operating under such stringent requirements could stifle new investment necessary to create jobs and grow our economy. That could slow the economy or even nudge it into recession.”

There’s another, better course. Progress is being made under standards set in 2008. States should determine the controls needed to comply with existing standards, and those controls should be implemented and then allowed time to take effect. Feldman:

“EPA literally, just yesterday, issued its proposed guidance for how places should start attaining the 2008 standard. It doesn’t seem right that we should be changing the standard now – it’s like moving the goalposts in the middle of the game. We think right now we should be working as a society on meeting the 2008 standard in the areas that are in non-attainment.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.