Senate, House bills introduced to block EPA ozone proposal

US Senate and House members introduced bills to block the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to lower ground-level ozone limits as the plan’s comment period ended and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing to examine its implications.

US Senate and House members introduced bills to block the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to lower ground-level ozone limits as the plan’s comment period ended and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing to examine its implications.

The bills—which Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-SD) and Reps. Pete Olson (R-Tex.) and Robert E. Latta (R-Ohio) offered on Mar. 17—would bar EPA from proposing a National Ambient Air Quality Standard lower than the 75 ppb established in 2008 until at least 85% of US counties that do not meet that limit currently come into compliance.

The bills were introduced on the final day that EPA accepted comments on its Nov. 25, 2014, proposal to lower the NAAQS limit to a 65-70 ppb range after an earlier proposal for a 60 ppb limit met fierce resistance. The measures also would require EPA to use direct air monitoring and consider the costs and feasibility of a lower NAAQS standard under the federal Clean Air Act.

“Placing new, costly regulations on states when they have not had sufficient time to comply with the existing standards is unfair,” said Manchin, an Energy and Natural Resources Committee member. “Lowering the ozone standard would cost states billions of dollars and thousands of good-paying jobs.”

Olson, who introduced a similar bill, HR 5505, with Latta and 22 Republic and 2 Democratic cosponsors on Sept. 17, 2014, said, “America has made important gains in air quality over the last 30 years and will continue down this path, but this new level puts most of America out of compliance, putting jobs and economic development at risk.”

‘Economic shambles’

Oil and gas associations and other business groups welcomed the measures. “The facts are clear: The current standards protect our environment and will continue improving air quality for decades,” said Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs. “We need to let the current standards continue working before moving the goalposts.”

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Pres. Charles T. Drevna, meanwhile, said, “Lowering the current ozone NAAQS would do very little to improve the environment and leave communities across the US in economic shambles. Many counties are having difficulty achieving compliance or are just beginning to implement the existing standard.”

America’s Natural Gas Alliance Executive Vice-Pres. Frank J. Macchiarola called the bills “commonsense ozone legislation that creates a balanced approach toward cleaner air while allowing for continued economic growth.”

The American Chemistry Council said in a statement, “Their bills will help ensure that manufacturers eager to invest in the US have a clear regulatory process and cost-effective, feasible standards. It’s a commonsense approach that lets local economies grow even as air quality continues to improve.”

The National Association of Manufacturers, meanwhile, submitted comments on behalf of itself and 29 other associations regarding EPA’s latest NAAQS proposal. National Economic Research Associates said in a recent update of a July 2014 study commissioned by NAM that EPA’s proposed 65 ppb limit could reduce US gross domestic product by $140 billion/year and create $1.1 trillion in compliance expenses from 2017 to 2040 (OGJ Online, Mar. 2, 2015).

“We hope that EPA not only listens to the 30 commenting organizations representing businesses in nearly every sector of the economy that employ millions of workers, but also the governors and environmental agencies from nearly half the states in the union who sent letters urging the agency to retain the existing standard,” NAM Vice-Pres. of Energy and Resource Policy Ross Eisenberg said on Mar. 17.

Local consequences

As the proposal’s comment period closed, witnesses also expressed concerns to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee about the plan’s potential impacts. National Black Chamber of Commerce Pres. Harry C. Alford said that while nationwide consequences described in NERA’s latest research are important, EPA’s latest proposal could jeopardize progress in communities such as Baton Rouge, La., which finally achieved compliance with the 75 ppb standard in April 2014.

Alford said the local Chamber of Commerce worked with four chemical companies during that period that were considering significant investments there. “Unfortunately, all four later decided to search elsewhere,” he said in his written testimony. “The companies all indicated that EPA’s ozone proposal with the threat of the ozone standard being lowered and the area falling back into nonattainment influenced their decisions to pull the plug on the projects in the Baton Rouge area.”

Raymond J. Keating, chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and the Center for Regulatory Solutions, said small businesses would be hit hardest by EPA’s proposed NAAQS regulations. “Indeed, the proposed ozone rule not only has the potential to be ‘the most expensive regulation’ ever enacted by the federal government in US history, [but] it will be one that severely impinges on entrepreneurship and economic freedom,” he warned in his written testimony.

Eldon Heaston, executive director and Air Quality Office for the Mojave Desert and Antelope Valley Air Quality Management Districts in California, said in his written testimony that EPA’s proposal, especially at its lower level, potentially could turn all of Southern California into an all-electric zone to meet Clean Air Act requirements.

But Mary D. Rice, an adult pulmonologist and critical care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston who testified on the American Thoracic Society’s behalf, said ozone exposures in the 60-70 ppb range adversely affect human beings from infants to the elderly.

“There is abundant and consistent scientific evidence demonstrating that ozone pollution—at levels permitted by the current standard—is damaging to lungs and contributes to illness and death,” she told the committee in her written testimony.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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