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Bring Common Sense, Clarity to Ozone Regulation

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted October 20, 2017

The current state of ozone regulation is a mess – and Washington needs to do something about it.

Late in 2015, EPA imposed new standards for ozone air quality, which posed an immediate problem out in the rest of the country because existing, 2008 standards weren’t yet fully implemented. Basically, the states were faced with having to deal with two competing sets of ozone regulations. And, as we wrote at the time, the 2015 standards weren’t necessary because the 2008 regime already was working and would continue to work toward better air quality.

Today, this confusing, unnecessary situation remains – unnecessary because air quality continues to improve. In a recent opinion piece for The Hill, Howard Feldman, API senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs, notes that air quality is getting cleaner and cleaner even as the economy grows, citing EPA data:

  • Combined emissions of six key air pollutants dropped 73 percent between 1970 and 2016.
  • These include lead (three-month average) down by 99 percent, carbon monoxide (eight-hour average) down by 77 percent, sulfur dioxide (one-hour) by 85 percent, nitrogen dioxide (annual) by 56 percent, ground-level ozone (eight-hour average) by 22 percent and particular matter by 39 percent (coarse) and 44 percent (fine).

EPA’s chart on the six pollutants:

six_pollutants_decline

Air quality improved while:

  • GDP grew 253 percent
  • Energy consumption increased 44 percent
  • Population grew 58 percent
  • Vehicle miles travels rose 190 percent

Feldman:

Conventional wisdom holds that economic growth goes hand in hand with increased air pollution, but EPA’s report would seem to turn that thinking on its head.

The potential harm here is in what could happen as states try to comply with 2015 standards requiring ozone readings at or below naturally occurring levels. Feldman:

[S]tates could be required to place restrictions on everything from manufacturing and energy development to infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. The regulations are so misguided and detached from science that their implementation could place hundreds of counties out of attainment and subject to costly mitigation measures. 

EPA could remedy the problem by rescinding the 2015 standards, as a 303-member coalition of businesses, associations and local governments urged in a letter last month to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. They wrote:

If implemented, EPA’s stringent ozone standards could limit business expansion in many areas of the United States and risk the ability of U.S. companies to create new jobs. The standards add red tape to companies seeking to grow even in areas that can attain those standards. The Clean Air Act carries even stiffer consequences for nonattainment areas, which can directly impact economic vitality of local communities and make it difficult to attract and develop business. Increased costs associated with restrictive and expensive permit requirements could likely deter companies from siting new facilities in a nonattainment area, making the United States a less attractive place to do business and risking shipping jobs overseas.

In the interim, the U.S. Senate can follow the House’s lead and pass legislation that gives states the flexibility they need to implement ozone standards more efficiently. As Feldman wrote in The Hill, the legislation would recognize ongoing state efforts to improve air quality while streamlining the air permitting process for businesses to expand operations and create jobs, as well as other reforms aimed at bringing more regulatory certainty to federal air quality standards.

Again, the U.S. air quality story is a good one, one that should be recognized by a common-sense approach to ozone regulation. The Senate can take a big step in the right direction by passing the House legislation.

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.