This Map Shows Why EPA’s New Ozone Standard Makes No Sense

Jan 29, 2015 - 5:15pm

Senior Editor, Digital Content

EPA wants to lower the ozone standard. However, there’s a glaring flaw in how the agency decided to lower it from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range between 65 to 70 ppb: It ignores pollution floating to the United States from overseas.

In testimony to EPA at a public hearing in Washington, DC, Mary Martin the U.S. Chamber’s Energy, Clean Air, and Natural Resources Policy Counsel, explained:

In recent years, scientists have measured increasing amounts of air pollution coming to the United States from overseas, particularly Asia. Pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter, are carried across the oceans at high altitudes and deposited on the Western United States. Other pollutants coming from Mexico, Canada, and Africa affect air quality in the Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest areas of the United States. A recent study found that “on a day-to-day basis, the transport of [emissions embodied in export]-related Chinese pollution contributed, at a maximum, … 2-5% of ozone … over the western United States, and it also contributed up to 8% of daily mean ozone over parts of the Great Lakes region.” Undoubtedly, as the world economy expands, numbers like these reflecting the impact of overseas pollution on the United States are only going to grow.

The study Martin refers to states:

This Chinese pollution also resulted in one extra day or more of noncompliance with the US ozone standard in 2006 over the Los Angeles area and many regions in the eastern United States.

It is unfair to expect areas of the country—most metropolitan areas under the lower standard--to be held accountable for pollution that comes from outside the United States. As Martin points out, the economic price is high:

Indeed, severe repercussions result almost immediately from non-attainment designations, such as increased costs to industry, permitting delays, restrictions on expansion, as well as impacts to transportation 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.

Or as Politico explains:

If air monitors show that a community is exceeding the limit, EPA deems the entire area to be out of compliance, which means that companies hoping to expand or build new facilities face a higher threshold for getting air permits and often have to pay to offset their emissions. In communities that just barely meet the standards, any new industrial activity could shift the area into running afoul of EPA.

Take Houston for example:

Despite billions spent on emission controls and a dramatic reduction in air pollutants, the area is in nonattainment with the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. As a result, there are strict regulatory permitting requirements for building or modifying factories and other facilities. Companies wanting to build or expand must pay for emission offsets before they can secure a preconstruction permit. These offsets are scarce, and expensive….

Similar economic restrictions will apply to other areas that can’t meet EPA’s proposed standard.

The best thing is for EPA to keep the current 75 ppb standard and implement it. Guidelines for that standard “still have not been finalized.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this post stated that Martin testified in Arlington, TX. She testifed in Washington, DC. I apologize for the error.

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About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.