Energy & Environment

GOP pushes changes to clean air law to fight ozone rule


House Republicans knocked a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule restricting ozone levels on Friday, suggesting they could change the Clean Air Act in order to hamper the regulations.

Republicans have proposed a bill that would require the EPA to consider the economic impact of its regulations and states’ abilities to achieve new standards before putting out ozone rules. By law, the EPA considers only public health issues when issuing Clean Air Act rules.

{mosads}“It sounds like we need to change that law,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said at a Friday committee hearing with EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe, the agency’s point person on clean air issues.

Olson said parts of his state will struggle to comply with stricter ozone standards — set to be finalized this fall — because of ozone that drifts across the border from Mexico. Other parts of the country will need to utilize compliance measures that aren’t used right now. 

“We know that natural and foreign ozone are not going away and likely to get larger,” he said. “That means we must squeeze more from smaller sources of ozone.”

Republicans have pushed back against the EPA’s proposed rule to reduce ozone levels from around 75 parts per billion to 65 ppb or 70 ppb. They say the lower level would threaten jobs, and cost employers and communities billions of dollars to implement. The EPA and the rule’s supporters say the public health benefits are greater than the economic impacts.

“We look at both; we lay both of those out,” McCabe said. “In our analysis we put out with our proposed rule, it showed that the benefits of this rule would outweigh the costs by 3 to 1.” 

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, told McCabe, “many of us” in Congress want the Clean Air Act changed to accommodate more considerations for the impact of EPA pollution rules on the economy.

“Under the act, you do not have any responsibility to look at those pockets of the country that are in noncompliance and the impact these stringent controls have on jobs,” he said.

“And yet, EPA, every time they come up here, it’s all about the benefits, the benefits, the benefits, and there are detriments to these actions.” 

Industry groups estimate implementing the ozone rule could reduce the gross domestic product by $140 billion a year, a figure government officials dispute. The EPA’s formal cost projection is between $3.9 billion and $15 billion. 

McCabe said concerns over the economic ills of the rule are overblown. She said past speculation about the impact of EPA ozone rules on the economy “absolutely hasn’t come true.”

“The two things go hand in hand,” McCabe said of cleaning up air pollution and growing the economy. “We’ve reduced air pollution dramatically in this country; the economy has grown.”

Republicans on the committee tied the ozone rule to the overall slate of regulations the EPA is in the process of updating, from those dealing with mercury standards to carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said employers are struggling to keep up with the agenda as a whole.

“We’re changing the rules on the fly, and the people who are creating jobs in this country can’t manage it,” he said. “That’s our problem with the EPA.”

Tags Ed Whitfield Environmental Protection Agency Janet McCabe John Shimkus Ozone Pete Olson

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