Senate should reject overreaching Obama-era ozone rule

Senate should reject overreaching Obama-era ozone rule
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The Environmental Protection Agency has missed a court-ordered deadline to announce which regions of the country are complying with an Obama-era ozone rule. The agency, which is working with the states, says it needs more time to make that determination.

It’s worth pointing out that the Obama administration missed lots of legislated deadlines, especially while implementing the Affordable Care Act, but also with environmental reports and regulations. Obama administration officials explained that they were more concerned with acting correctly than acting quickly — and the political left remained mostly quiet.


Not this time. Green activists are livid. The Environmental Defense Fund accused the agency of “allowing vulnerable communities to suffer the consequences of polluted air while Administrator Pruitt stalls.”


The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six air pollutants, including ozone, which is a major ingredient in smog. According to the EPA, ozone levels have dropped by a third since 1980. 

In addition, the EPA claims that between 1990 and 2015 levels of six common air pollutants have dropped by an average of 70 percent across the nation, even as economic output jumped over 240 percent. Levels of carbon monoxide alone have fallen by 84 percent since 1990, while lead concentrations have dropped by 85 percent. That’s what you call a success story.

However, the precipitous ozone drop didn’t stop the Obama administration from issuing a strict new ozone rule in 2015. The regulation requires states to limit ground-level ozone concentrations to 70 parts per billion. Previous standards issued in 2008 had set acceptable ozone levels at 75 ppb. 

The EPA’s 2015 ozone rule would create an immense compliance burden for many regions of the country. The Congressional Research Service says that ozone levels still exceed the 2008 requirement of 75 ppb in 177 counties. The new 2015 standard of 70 ppb would move the goalposts. Industry estimates suggest that 958 counties — nearly one-third of all counties — could be classified as “nonattainment” areas.

States and industries will have to spend billions of dollars adhering to these new rules or face severe penalties if they fail — or refuse — to address an issue that has been improving for decades. 

As a result, local economies would pay a significant price. In 2015, the EPA claimed that compliance would cost states, excluding California, $1.4 billion by 2025.

The actual costs will likely be far higher. As recently as 2011, the agency calculated the annual cost of meeting the 70 ppb standard at between $19 billion and $25 billion.

Why the reduced calculation? One reason is that companies are increasingly trying to be good environmental partners. Many are even moving toward zero-emissions factories and workplaces. 

Whatever the true cost in dollars, the real cost will be in lost jobs and business investment. If companies are shelling out billions of dollars to comply with the law, that’s money they can’t use to hire new workers, increase pay and benefits, invest in new equipment and software, and upgrade factories and workplaces.

Why would federal regulators choose to ignore the crippling costs associated with their rules? Because they’re required to. Unlike most legislation where its cost plays a big role in whether members of Congress will or won’t support it, under the Clean Air Act “air quality standards must be set based on science without regard to costs of implementing pollution controls to achieve the standards.”

Congress knows the updated ozone rules will have a huge negative impact on the economy. This summer, the House passed the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017 to delay the 2015 standards. It’s now up to the Senate.

Over the last few decades, America has made extraordinary progress in ridding the air of harmful pollutants — including ozone. And that progress is likely to continue as new technologies for reducing pollution become available and affordable — just as carbon emissions have been on a more than decade-long decline. 

No one wants dirty air — no one. Clean air is achievable when air quality standards move us in the right direction while encouraging economic growth protect both the environment and the economy.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.