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NOTE: Erin Monroe Wesley, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, will testify Tuesday to a House Energy and Commerce joint subcommittee about the “EPA’s Proposed Ozone Rule: Potential Impacts on Manufacturing.” Here’s a look at a related piece from Adam Knapp, the CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, that published in February.
Baton Rouge is already paying a price – to the tune of $86 million annually in wages for the local economy – due to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to reduce the ozone standard from its current 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range of 65 to 70 ppb.
In 2014, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) worked with four chemical manufacturers considering investing in the region, including two companies that executed purchase agreements on large industrial sites with intent to develop. Subsequently, all four companies indicated that the EPA's proposed new standards prompted them to look elsewhere.
The EPA is calling for the changes despite the fact that the standards from 2008 are not yet fully implemented -- and without guidance for achieving the more stringent levels.
The Baton Rouge projects were shelved at the mere suggestion of proposed changes by the EPA. If one were to extrapolate the potential impact nationwide, the economic impact would seem incalculable. Further reductions would effectively place a stranglehold on economic development in the Baton Rouge area and approximately 500 counties across the country.
The Louisiana Example
For years, the five-parish region comprising Baton Rouge worked diligently to achieve attainment of the current standard of 75 ppb, demonstrating decreased ground-level ozone in the process. If the standard is further reduced, the Greater Baton Rouge Area - and essentially the entire State of Louisiana - will fall out of compliance. While the BRAC has gone on record in its opposition to the proposed changes, we appeal to other chambers and economic development organizations across the country whose industrial development also is at risk.
Economic development and environmental stewardship can work together as mutually inclusive goals. Baton Rouge Area businesses are committed to both. Louisiana is currently developing a plan to demonstrate that the five-parish Baton Rouge Area can maintain compliance with the current ozone standard for the next ten years. The state has decreased ground-level ozone in Baton Rouge, which improved air quality for the over 800,000 residents. BRAC and the EPA have similar goals: Both organizations want to facilitate high quality, safe lives for those whom they serve.
The Baton Rouge Area has been extremely successful in creating economic growth. Recently, the Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked Baton Rouge among the top-ten of the nation's fastest-growing metro areas in terms of increased gross domestic product. Clean air is a priority for the state as a whole, as well as the Baton Rouge Area's business community. Industrial development, too, is critical to continued success.
Time to Act
Consider the seemingly capricious changes to current standards and the collective impact on regional economies.