On November 25th, U.S. EPA finally issued the long anticipated proposal to reduce the ozone standard. The EPA is proposing to revise both the primary and secondary standards to a level within the range of 65 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. The current (2008) ozone standard is 75 ppb. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to re-evaluate the ozone standard every five years.
EPA will also accept public comment on retaining the current standard or lowering the standard to 60 ppb. Industry will strongly support retention of the current standard while environmental groups will argue for a reduction as low as possible.
EPA will take comment on the proposal for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register and will hold three public hearings. It plans to issue a final decision by Oct. 1, 2015.
EPA has delayed issuance of a revised standard on multiple occasions, must recently in September of 2011 (see prior post). Those delays have been beneficial because they have allowed for existing emission reduction regulations to take effect. The longer EPA waits to finalize the new standard, the more time existing regulations have to take full effect.
Given the delays and controversy around lowering the standard, it appears very likely EPA will settle on a new standard of 70 ppb. Maintaining the current standard would be very difficult given the EPA's science board has recommended further reductions. However, going any lower than 70 ppb would result is too severe of emission reductions.
Impact on Ohio
Ohio's major metropolitan areas have always faced challenges in meeting federal ozone standards. It will be no different this time around (EPA's national chart shows a long of red and orange dots in Ohio).
The challenge facing the states is that federal regulations have been far more effective in reducing ozone compared with state or local regulations. Each time EPA tightens the standard, the more difficult it becomes to find new reductions to lower ozone levels further.
While reductions are hard to come by, the switch from coal to natural gas will have a huge impact on ozone levels. The closure of multiple coal-fired power plants will lead to large reductions in ozone precursors (NOx). While the switch to natural gas should help in achieving new ozone standards, it will still be very difficult for Ohio to achieve the necessary reductions.
In an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio GOP members expressed concern as to the impact of a lowered ozone standard on the economy:
House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP lawmakers from Ohio were unhappy with the EPA proposal.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman fears the rule "will have a negative impact on job creation in the state of Ohio," his spokeswoman said, while Boehner predicted it could "slash family budgets by more than $1,500 per year, reduce GDP by trillions and cost our economy millions of jobs."
Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci predicted it would lead to higher utility costs. He pledged "to rein in the EPA to ensure that its overreaching regulations do not crush job creation and increase costs for Ohioans."
"Significant portions of the country, including Ohio, are still struggling to meet the EPA's 2008 guidelines, so moving the goalposts now will only lead to more uncertainty and higher compliance costs, which will ultimately be passed onto the consumer," said a statement from Renacci.
Once again, Ohio finds itself at the center of the challenge to balance air quality improvements with economic welfare.