The United States has a great success story to tell when it comes to environmental progress. America’s air is getting cleaner and cleaner, as our economy grows.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest annual report on air quality, released in early August, reveals the combined emissions of six key air pollutants dropped 73 percent between 1970 and 2016. The progress is all the more noteworthy considering the same period brought increases in GDP (up 253 percent since 1970), energy consumption (up 44 percent), population (up 58 percent) and vehicle miles traveled (up 190 percent). Conventional wisdom holds that economic growth goes hand in hand with increased air pollution, but EPA’s report would seem to turn that thinking on its head.
The United States leads the world not only in production of natural gas and oil but in reduction of carbon emissions. Greater use of clean natural gas has helped drive down power sector carbon emissions to near 30-year lows, while also helping to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.
Ozone concentrations are also down -- 17 percent since 2000 – thanks in part to increased use of domestic natural gas and technological advances. Spending in the natural gas and oil industry to improve the environmental performance of its products, facilities and operations totals $322 billion since 1990. Between 2000 and 2014, industry invested about $90 billion in new zero- or low-emissions technologies – more than twice that of the next closest industry sector and nearly as much as the federal government.
The approach is clearly working – for ozone and other pollutants.
So it makes little sense that states are being saddled with not one but two competing sets of regulations on ozone. The EPA issued stringent new ozone regulations in 2008 and then again in 2015 before the previous regulations had even been fully implemented, burdening state agencies and local economies with an obligation to develop two different but concurrent ozone programs.
To comply with standards approaching or below naturally occurring levels of ozone, states could be required to place restrictions on everything from manufacturing and energy development to infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. The regulations are so misguided and detached from science that their implementation could place hundreds of counties out of attainment and subject to costly mitigation measures.
A collection of 269 business groups -- made up of manufacturers, builders, contractors, road construction groups and chambers of commerce across the nation – warned EPA of the potential impact, explaining that the 2015 regulations would “make it difficult to manufacture products, build new projects, produce energy, improve infrastructure and hire the workers needed to make this all happen.”
The House passed bipartisan legislation in June to give states the flexibility they need to implement the standards more efficiently. The Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, introduced by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), recognizes ongoing state efforts to improve air quality, streamlines the air permitting process for businesses to expand operations and create jobs, and includes other reforms that bring more regulatory certainty to federal air quality standards.
A coalition of 303 associations and businesses representing a broad cross-section of U.S. industries have endorsed the legislation, which fully maintains our national commitment to protecting public health and reducing emissions -- without unnecessarily straining state and local economic resources.
Now it’s up to the Senate. With employment finally back to pre-recession levels, the last thing the government should do is move forward with regulations that could jeopardize a wide range of job-creating activities. Congress faces a packed legislative calendar in September, but sending commonsense air quality legislation to the president’s desk is a piece of unfinished business too important to neglect.
Feldman is director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.