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EPA and Ozone: Questioning the Economics, Science

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 13, 2015

Another data point in the continuing public discussion of EPA’s plan to make the nation’s standards for ozone more restrictive, even as the existing standards have ozone levels falling 18 percent from 2000 to 2013 (chart below) – and giving every indication levels will continue to fall. A new study by the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS) details how more restrictive ozone standards would impact where a lot of people live: Chicago and the state of Illinois.

smallAccording to the study, 21 counties in Illinois would be out of compliance or in “non-attainment” if EPA tightens ground-level standards from the existing 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 ppb, as it may do. (The fact is EPA is considering a national level as low as 60 ppb.)

Those 21 counties represent nearly 80 percent of Illinois’ gross domestic product, or $613.4 billion. The CRS study says Cook County and five other counties that surround Chicago would be “ground zero” for the most dramatic ozone reductions, potentially affecting 65 percent of the state’s population, nearly 70 percent of its employment and 73 percent of its GDP. The study:

Currently with ozone levels of 80 ppb, Cook County would need to reduce its ozone levels substantially to comply; its service-driven economy will be challenged to find low-cost reduction opportunities.

Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council and CRS:

“This report confirms the concerns raised by local leaders of both parties about the devastating economic impact President Obama’s ozone regulation will have on the city of Chicago and the entire state. … Let’s keep in mind that by working collaboratively at the local level, significant improvements are being made. In fact, over the past thirty years, we have made significant progress cleaning up our air. But if federal bureaucrats in Washington get in the way and impose a costly regulation that will significantly undermine local efforts, then this progress may be lost.”

This certainly parallels a dire economic forecast for the U.S. by NERA Economic Consulting – that more restrictive ozone standards could reduce national GDP by $270 billion per year and $3.4 trillion from 2017 to 2014. The NERA study says the U.S. could see 2.9 million fewer jobs or job equivalents per year on average through 2040.

Questions every American should be asking: What’s the actual science behind EPA’s proposal, and is the potential for this kind of economic pain justified by some other broad public benefit?

Nearly two dozen medical professionals who’re now members of Congress question the factual foundation for health benefits EPA claims would result from more restrictive ozone standards.  In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last month, the lawmakers, most of them M.D.s, write there has been no correlation between falling ozone levels and the U.S. asthma rate – which underscores questions concerning the “validity of EPA’s conclusions.”

At the same time, in House testimony last month, Tony Cox, chief sciences officer with NextHealth Technologies, said EPA’s predictions of public health benefits from its ozone proposal are “unwarranted and exaggerated.” Cox:

They are unwarranted because EPA’s conclusions about the causal impacts of ozone reductions on public health are not derived from objective science or statistical analyses of causation. Instead, EPA’s conclusions rely on unreliable subjective judgments of selected experts; on models that they concede are inaccurate and have large but unquantified uncertainties; and on mistakenly treating association or correlation as causality. None of these methods produces trustworthy conclusions. … Ozone levels have already fallen in recent decades by far more than the proposed amounts in many locations in the United States. Yet analysis of public health records shows that these large reductions in ozone levels have caused no detectable public health benefits. Thus, EPA’s assumption that smaller future reductions in ozone will do so is unwarranted. There is no need to repeat the costly effort to obtain better public health by further reducing ozone levels when we already know from abundant historical experience that doing so does not work.

The questions about EPA’s ozone science and its analyses deserve serious answers – especially in the context of a proposal that could be the most expensive regulation ever. API’s Howard Feldman, senior director of science and regulatory affairs earlier this year:

“We urge the administration to keep the current standards, which are not only the strictest standards ever imposed – they have yet to be fully implemented. Fundamentally, we question the wisdom and the motivation behind burdening our nation’s still recovering economy and the American consumer with more, costly regulations before the current regulations have been given time to work. The truth is this rule could be the costliest regulation ever imposed on the American public. A lower standard could, for little or no health benefit, significantly constraint our nation’s economy and eliminate thousands of jobs.”

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.