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EPA’s Infrastructure-Halting Ozone Proposal

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 22, 2015

An informative event this week hosted by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, highlighting some potential real-world impacts of EPA’s proposal to tighten national ozone standards. Underscore “real-world impacts,” because the discussion centered on the potential havoc EPA’s proposal could unleash on transportation projects all over the country. “There’s going to be real people who’re going to be really upset,” said Karen A. Harbert, Institute president and CEO.

It’s important to see EPA’s ozone proposal in that light. The possible macro-economic harm that stricter ozone standards could bring – GDP reduction of $270 billion per year and $3.4 trillion from 2017 to 2040, according to one study – have been discussed here and elsewhere. But individual Americans may or may not relate to them, they’re so large.

infrastructureThe institute discussion and its new report, “Grinding To a Halt – Examining the Impacts of New Ozone Regulations on Key Transportation Projects” – help bring potential problems with stricter ozone standards to Americans’ doorsteps. Or, more specifically, to their daily commutes – which could get tougher if all kinds of transportation projects are terminated or delayed because they’re proposed in areas that would be in nonattainment with the new ozone standards. (More on the ExxonMobil Perspectives blog.)  

We’ve talked about the ozone proposal a number of times because EPA’s proposal also would affect energy development and infrastructure. But, as the institute event made clear, EPA’s ozone initiative could cut a much broader swath through national, state and local economies.   

A chart from the institute report:


The map on top shows eight-hour ozone nonattainment areas in the U.S. under the existing, 2008 standards of 75 parts per billion (ppb). The one on the bottom shows projected eight-hour nonattainment areas if the standards are tightened to 65 ppb.  

Being in nonattainment, which is where much of the country could be if EPA’s proposal becomes final, could mean serious impacts at the local level: manufacturers might not be able to launch or expand, economic growth could be halted and federal highway funds could be frozen.

Speakers at the institute event focused on potential impacts in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs around Washington because the institute’s initial report deals with those impacts. Reports on other metropolitan areas will follow in the coming months. They warned that the ozone proposal could significantly delay needed projects while keeping others from getting on the drawing board, much less off it.

Richard Parsons of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance the ozone proposal fails to consider that idled traffic generates far more pollution than vehicles that are able to travel at posted speeds. Transportation infrastructure that could be delayed by ozone nonattainment means jobs delayed and increased costs, upwards of $100 million per year. Parsons:

“This is a solution in search of a problem. We’re trying to fix something that ain’t broke. … [It’s a shame to let] process run roughshod over progress.”

smallThe Chamber’s Janet Kavinoky pointed out the disconnect within the Obama administration – the president regularly calls for infrastructure investment, even as EPA moves to make national ozone standards more restrictive, potentially hindering the investments the president seeks. Others noted that U.S. ozone levels have been falling under the existing standards and that EPA’s proposal appears to be regulation for the sake of regulation. Nick Goldstein of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association:

“Regulation is not supposed to be an endless maze of doing something for the sake of doing something.”

Greg Cohen of the American Highway Users Alliance said Congress is moving toward a bipartisan transportation bill that would fund projects across the country. Cohen:

“And yet while all of this is going on … we have on the other hand EPA saying even if you fund this you can’t do these projects.”

Bottom line from Harbert:  EPA’s ozone proposal is not “a recipe for economic growth.”


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.