Sunday, September 25, 2011

EPA’s Tighter Ozone Standards Will Strangle Economic Recovery

A few weeks ago, the President asked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the agency’s draft for more stringent Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Although Jackson begrudgingly complied, the EPA is still moving to an ozone standard more stringent than the current one.

The current ozone standard of 84 parts per billion (the concentration of ozone in the air over an 8-hour period—a drop of gasoline in a tanker truck is one ppb) prevailed while the EPA tried to implement even stricter rules, but since President Obama scrapped those plans, the EPA is moving to enforce the 75 ppb that was adopted in 2008.

The costs for states and areas to comply with a tightened ozone standard are substantial, and it will increase the number of areas in nonattainment—areas in which ozone standards are higher than the regulated amount. These federal mandates can discourage companies from expanding or force them to implement costly emission-reduction technologies. The Wall Street Journal reports:

There are 52 areas where air quality fails to meet the 2008 standard, the EPA said in a memo to state officials. Among them are Baltimore, San Diego, Dallas-Fort Worth and parts of Los Angeles. Ms. Jackson said the EPA would enforce the standard in a “common-sense way” to minimize the burden on state and local governments. The Bush-era standard, while more lenient than the 60 to 70 parts-per-billion level considered by the Obama administration, would still harm the economy, according to business groups. Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said 75 parts per billion would be costly to implement and damaging to job creation. “The tighter the standards get, they become a much larger hurdle to meet,” Mr. Feldman said.

The massive costs of tightening the standard have outweighed the negligible environmental benefits in the past, and enforcing the 75 ppb will have diminishing marginal returns—possibly to the vanishing point. Even the EPA acknowledged lowering the ozone standard to 70 ppb would only lower asthma and respiratory diseases a few tenths of a percent. Enforcing a standard of 75 ppb would have a similar marginal benefit.

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