As Dust Settles After Ozone Announcement the States Emerge as the Big Winners

The Obama Administration had already delayed issuance of a revised ozone standard three times.  EPA had said repeatedly that it would it would finally promulgate the new standard by this  August.  Then last week, President Obama shocked many by announcing that EPA would not issue a new ozone standard until 2013.

A Little History on Ozone

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the ozone standard every five years.   In 2008, the Bush Administration set the new ozone limit at 75 parts per billion (ppb). That was tighter than the existing regulations, but considerably weaker than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended  by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC- a science advisory panel which advises EPA in settings National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

Litigation ensued over the Bush standard.  However, a cease fire was called when the Obama Administration took office and called the 75 ppb indefensible.  The EPA promised to revisit the standard and set it somewhere between the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by CASAC.

Since EPA made its early pronouncements, the economy has not improved causing the EPA to delay issuance of a new standard on three different occasions.  The final arbitrary deadline was set for this August to finally announce the new standard.  But on the eve of the announcement, the Obama Administration issued a statement that it would wait until 2013 to review the standard.

Internet Blisters with Commentary

The media and internet has been awash in debate regarding the delay in the ozone standard.   Time wrote a piece titled "Is President Obama Bad for the Environment."  The backlash from environmental groups and clean air advocates has been dramatic. Industry has heralded the decision.  Here is a sampling from the various perspectives:

  • MoveOn.org said they don't know how they can support the President's re-election after such an announcement. 
  • Sierra Club- "Had the EPA smog pollution regulations come into effect as anticipated, it would have prevented 12,000 deaths, 5,300 heart attacks, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks.  Its time we stop pitting the false promise of jobs from a desperate-albeit wealthy and powerful-industry against the best interests of the American People."
  • National Petrochemical & Refiners Association- "President Obama acted in the best interests of the American people last Friday when he blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing unrealistic, unjustified and unneeded new ozone standards on our nation. The president should now follow up by stopping EPA from imposing other extreme regulations that will cost our economy billions of dollars and wipe out millions of American jobs, without providing any significant environmental benefits."
  • Business Roundtable-  Calls the ozone standard the single most expensive environmental regulation in U.S. History.  In an op-ed piece, Governor Engler says that 85% of U.S. counties would be in "nonattainment" with the new standard triggering a cascade of federal and state controls.  EPA estimates the new standards could cost between $20 to $90 billion annually.

For some additional perspectives on both sides of the debate I would recommend reviewing the National Law Journal's Energy & Environment Blog- "Sizing Up Obama's Ozone Standard Delay"

Implications for Ohio

In my former role as Director of Ohio EPA, I got to see first hand how the state's dealt with meeting new federal air quality standards, including the ozone standard.  From that experience I concur with the business groups who were concerned with the new standard's impacts on a struggling economy.  This is particularly true for states like Ohio with high population, heavy reliance on manufacturing and where coal is the main source of power generation.

A "nonattainment" designation for a metropolitan area is a massive impediment to economic development.  Particularly metropolitan areas that rely on a growing manufacturing base to attract new jobs.   Air permitting requirements under nonattainment New Source Review places these areas at a competitive disadvantage to areas that meet the standard. 

Even more importantly, I learned that the states, in reality, have far less ability to institute regulations that reduce smog then the federal EPA.  This is because much of the nonattainment problem is attributable to interstate pollution.  Also, much of it comes from vehicles for which there is very little ability to reduce emissions through state regulation. The last decade has demonstrated that federal regulations directed at vehicles and interstate pollution are much more effective in reducing ozone levels than negligible benefits achieved through state regulation.

Existing Federal Regulations Will Continue to Reap Clean Air Benefits

While new state air pollution regulations have little impact in improving air quality, federal regulations have resulted in dramatic improvements.  Areas that five years ago were thought never to reach attainment with the old 1997 ozone standard (like Cleveland) have been able to reach attainment.

Here is a chart of exceedences of the ozone standard in Ohio going back to 2000.  Recently, there are no exceedences of the old 1-hr standard (.0125 ppm) and very few of the 1997 8-hr standard. Over the last five years the major benefits of the federal air regulations discussed above have been realized.

However, what is not shown is the number of exceedences that would occur under a 8-hr standard within the CASAC range of .070 to .060 ppm.  It would be pretty dramatic.

These existing federal regulations will continue to improve air quality because they are phased in over time.  These regulations include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 20 years as the vehicle fleet turns over.  In addition,  CSAPR is just on the books and will dramatically reduce power plant pollution.

Bottomline- Air Quality Improves While States Get Some Breathing Room

Even though the ozone standard will not be revised until 2013, air quality will continue to  improve as a result of these major federal air quality regulations.  Meanwhile, the states will not be saddled with non-attainment designations under a new standard during a tough economic period. 

When the ozone standard is revised, the States will have benefited from the greater reductions achieved from these federal regulations. These air quality benefits will make it much more realistic that the states can achieve the new standard. 

 

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