Energy & Environment

White House reviews EPA’s ozone pollution rule

White House reviews EPA’s ozone pollution rule

The Obama administration has started the final review process for its regulation to reduce the allowable concentration of ozone pollution in the air.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said Monday that it had received the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule Friday, kicking off its review.

The administration agreed in court to release the regulation by Oct. 1, giving the OMB just over a month to complete a process that typically takes much longer.

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The ozone rule has become one of the most controversial air pollution rules of President Obama’s tenure, mostly because of its predicted costs and impact on fossil fuels and the industries that use them.

Cutting the ground-level ozone standard to between 65 and 70 parts per billion from the current 75 parts per billion could cost up to $1.1 trillion, according to a study commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, making it the most expensive regulation ever.

The EPA proposed the 65 to 70 parts per billion range in November. It will not reveal the number it chose until it reveals the final version of the regulation.

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Ozone is produced by pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels, and states are likely to take measures to reduce fossil fuel use in order to comply with the regulation.

The EPA estimated that annual costs from the rule could reach only $16.6 billion, but health benefits from reduced respiratory illnesses would be worth up to $38 billion.

While the EPA is obligated under the Clean Air Act to only consider public health in setting the standard, fossil fuel interests have been focusing nearly exclusively on the costs of compliance in their campaigns against the regulation.

The Sierra Club on Monday reiterated its support for the lower end of the range the EPA is considering.

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“It's time to take the advice of doctors and medical scientists, and act to protect the health of American families by setting much stronger protections from smog pollution,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the group’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

“For far too long, American families have paid the price for an outdated smog standard that is much too weak to protect our health,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, which opposes any changes to the current ozone standard, criticized the Obama administration for planning such a short White House review of such a consequential regulation.

“We are surprised the administration is limiting interagency review of what could be the most expensive regulation ever,” Howard Feldman, the group’s director for regulatory affairs, said in a statement.

“EPA’s proposal to tighten the ozone standards would fall on top of current limits that are already improving air quality,” he said. “The nation’s air is getting cleaner, and air quality will continue to improve as we implement the existing standards.”