Industry assails Obama’s ozone regulations

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Business groups are waging war on the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce ozone pollution, arguing the regulations would cripple the U.S. economy.

In order to comply with the proposed rule, many areas of the country would have to all but shut down land development and oil and natural gas drilling, industry groups charged on the final day for comments.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being spurred on by greens and health groups, who argue that lower ozone emissions would benefit public health. The agency, they contend, is obligated to adopt the stricter standards.

But the rules would translate to higher electric bills for American families, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is said in comments it filed Tuesday.

“At the same time, declining real household incomes coupled with increasing energy costs are harming the 60 million American families with low and middle incomes.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said it is too soon to change the standard of 75 parts per billion, the current standard set in 2008. The EPA is proposing a cut to between 65 and 70 ppb, but many states and localities have not yet begun to implement the 2008 regulation, the group notes.

“If President Obama is serious about lifting up the middle class and closing the income inequality gap, the last thing his administration should do is threaten jobs and our energy and manufacturing renaissance with unnecessary new regulations,” Howard Feldman, API’s director of regulatory affairs, told reporters.

The oil and gas group said the lower end of the range the EPA is considering would be within the amount of naturally occurring ozone levels of many areas.

“As proposed, the new standards could impose unachievable emission reduction requirements in virtually every part of the nation,” Feldman said.

Ozone is a byproduct from a reaction of some pollutants created by burning fossil fuels. It has been linked to various respiratory illnesses.

If the EPA were to make its rule final, states would be responsible for bringing their levels down, which the rule’s opponents warn would cause some businesses to close.

In a joint statement, the American Wood Council and the American Forest and Paper Association argued that the regulation would hurt them too.

“The costs of further tightening the standard are significant when there is such scientific uncertainty,” Donna Harman, the paper group’s president, said in the statement. “The proposed revisions could place most of the country in nonattainment, putting five times more paper and wood product mills at risk.”

Members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology joined the assault Tuesday, criticizing the estimated costs and questioning the EPA’s estimated health benefits.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) cited a study from Nera Economic Consulting, commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, that finds the rule would be the most expensive ever, with up to $1.1 trillion in compliance costs.

“A non-attainment designation under the Clean Air Act has serious consequences,” Smith said.

But the EPA estimated that it would cost less than $15 billion annually and the rule’s health benefits — totaling up to $39 billion — would make up for that.

Environmental and health groups also highlighted the Clean Air Act’s requirement that the EPA set the standard based on public health without considering costs.

The groups said the EPA should go even further, with a 60 ppb standard, which the agency has agreed to consider.

“There is a robust body of scientific evidence that supports the adoption of a more protective standard of 60 [ppb],” the American Lung Association wrote in a letter signed by more than 1,000 medical professionals.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, cited overwhelming public support. 

“Half a million Americans from across the country are calling on the EPA to heed the warnings of doctors and scientists on the health impacts of air pollution and strengthen the smog pollution standard to protect our communities from reckless polluters,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s beyond coal campaign, said in a statement.

The EPA had tallied just more than 50,500 comments as of Tuesday morning but expects many more, spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement.

The agency will consider changes to the rule based on the comments and has agreed in court to make it final by Oct. 1.