Jun 23, 2015 - 10:45am

In Speech to Mayors, Obama Avoids Ozone Regulation They Fear


Senior Editor, Digital Content

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President Barack Obama
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

When President Obama spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, he thanked them for having a “common-sense, problem-solving, can-do attitude” and their role “in helping make for a vibrant city and expanding opportunity.”

This congeniality covered over a big policy conflict the mayors have with the president: EPA’s proposed new ozone standard.

In March, the mayors along with other local governing groups sent a letter to EPA asking that it be delayed until the 2008 standard is fully implemented.

[Yes, the federal government is a little behind.]

The mayors are worried, because the proposed new ozone standard will put nearly every major metropolitan area in violation if the standard is lowered to 65 parts per billion (ppb).

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Ozone Nonattainment Areas from API
Source: American Petroleum Institute.

“By EPA’s own estimates, under a 70 ppb standard, 358 counties and their cities would be in violation,” the letter states, “under a 65 ppb standard, an additional 558 counties and their cities would be in violation.”

The local officials explain that areas not meeting the tougher standard will have their federal transportation funds cut:

For non-attainment areas, the federal government can withhold federal highway funds for projects and plans. Withholding these funds can negatively affect job creation and critical economic development projects for impacted regions, even when these projects and plans could have a measurable positive effect on congestion relief.

Over the weekend, the mayors of Little Rock, Ark., and Alexandria, La., talked about their worries with the proposed standard at a panel hosed by the National Association of Manufacturers.

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If the new standard goes into effect cities will have a harder time attracting investment, creating jobs, and generating economic growth. In fact, just the threat of the new standard is hurting Baton Rouge, La.

Because extensive and costly permitting requirements will be imposed on industry, it will be "substantially harder for a community to attract new business."

“The EPA's proposed ozone rule could be the most expensive regulation in U.S. history,” said a letter to President Obama from dozens of business associations including the U.S. Chamber.

All this will happen when, according to EPA, ozone levels have been falling for decades.

It’s too bad the president was silent about the proposed new standard. It would’ve been an opportunity for him to engage in some “common-sense, problem-solving” of his own like he did in 2011 when he ordered EPA to delay the new ozone standard.

UPDATE: NAM wrote up a blog post about their event. Here's a portion:

This proposed regulation could be the most costly ever, with an estimated economic cost of $140 billion per year. At the panel mayors from across the United States urged balance from federal regulators. The mayors from Fresno, California and Mesa, Arizona gave a first-hand account of the challenges local manufacturers and businesses face from a non-attainment designation and mayors from Little Rock, Arkansas and Alexandria, Louisiana highlighted the uncertainty created from changing the regulation yet again.

Mayor Mark Stodola from Little Rock, Arkansas expressed fears of how his industrial centers will be impacted by this proposed regulation and the uncertainty it will create. He noted that all will be faced with the challenge of coming into compliance and that it will disadvantage his cities global competitiveness.

Fresno, California Mayor Ashley Swearengin spoke to the complex regulatory structure in California. Fresno has faced challenges with ozone for years and the desire to balance economic development and improved health are important to all of her constituents. Swearengin spoke to the ability of manufacturers and private sector companies to do what it can to solve the problem.

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About the Author

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.