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Scientists propose lowering the federal ozone standard to a level that would make nearly every single American subject to new emissions requirements.
In 2010, EPA proposed lowering the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range of 60-70 ppb. However, in September 2011, President Obama told EPA to withdraw the standard.
The issue returned last week, when an EPA science board advised the agency to lower ozone levels even farther than was proposed in 2010. “[O]ur policy advice is to set the level of the standard lower than 70 ppb within a range down to 60 ppb,” the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
If the standard is lowered to 60 ppb, nearly every single American would live in a county that wouldn’t meet the standard. Even pristine areas like national parks would be out of attainment, as Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of regulatory and scientific affairs, explains:
[W]e don’t know how to get to these levels. These levels are levels that are at or below peak background. Background levels at Yellowstone National Park are 66 parts per billion, background. So we’re talking about setting a standard at or below background. … We’re talking about reducing the headroom towards the background levels. Background at pristine locations is 65, 66, 67 (ppb). It means we have very little ability for our society to operate the way it normally does…. We’re talking about reducing that (head)room to almost zero.
API produced two maps showing the extent of this ozone standard. The first shows areas that would have been out of attainment under the 75 ppb standard.
The second shows area that would be out of attainment under the 60 ppb standard. Mark Green at Energy Tomorrow explains, “in orange are unmonitored areas that are anticipated to violate a 60 ppb standard, based on spatial interpolation.”
“Ninety-four percent of the population would live in places out of compliance and subject to new emission reductions requirements,” said Feldman.
For those areas that couldn’t meet the 60 ppb standard, that state’s government would have to draft a plan to lower ozone emissions. This will be a serious barrier to job creation and investment. In comments to CASAC in March, Mary Martin, Energy, Clean Air and Natural Resources Policy counsel for the U.S. Chamber, stated that "further tightening of the standards" would be "devastating:"
[F]ailure to comply with existing ozone standards can lead to non-attainment designation, which are often viewed as a death knell for economic and business development in an area.
Indeed, severe repercussion result almost immediately from non-attainment designation, such as increased costs to industry, permitting delays, restrictions on expansion, as well as impacts to transporation planning. There are significant adverse consequences to being designated a non-attainment area, making it substantially harder for a community to attract new business or expand existing facilities. Furthermore, in non-attainment areas, EPA is able to revise existing air permits, which can cause tremendous uncertainty, delays, and increased costs in the permitting process for businesses.
In 2011, EPA estimated that complying with a stricter standard ozone standard of 60 ppb to 70 ppb would cost as much as $90 billion annually. A 2013 study produced for the U.S. Chamber by the economic consulting firm NERA, found that reducing ozone levels to 65 ppb “would reduce worker incomes by the equivalent of 609,000 jobs annually on average from 2013 through 2037.”
EPA is already making an attempt to broaden is reach with its proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. If the agency accepts CASAC’s ozone recommendation, its reach will be even farther.