Major business groups are in the midst of a coordinated, multimillion-dollar effort aimed at sowing opposition to the Obama administration’s smog pollution regulations.

The organizations, led by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), have been working for at least two years to discourage the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from changing its standard for ground-level ozone. NAM and its allies say the rule — to be finalized next month — would dramatically increase their costs and put up new hurdles to expansion.

{mosads}The main opposition plan involves grassroots advocacy, reaching out directly to the people who would be impacted by the regulation and using their arguments to convince administration officials and lawmakers to act to stop the regulations.

The efforts, which ramped up greatly over Congress’s August recess, have also seen a heavy emphasis on swing states, states with tough Senate election battles and states the groups believe would suffer the most under the regulations. The rule is in the administration’s hands, but opponents are also appealing to Congress to stop the EPA.

For NAM, the operation is unprecedented in scope, said Ross Eisenberg, the group’s vice president for energy and resources policy.

“It’s a multi-pronged, multifaceted approach, which integrates the policy folks, the lobbying department, but also heavily depends on grassroots, grasstops, external relations resources and paid and earned media as well,” said Eisenberg.

“It’s been about making sure that we had people on the ground in all of these states, talking to the people that needed to be heard that would have to live with this regulation once it was in place.”

The other groups in the effort have included lobbying heavyweights such as the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s Center for Regulatory Solutions.

The lobbyists hope to stop, or at least soften, an EPA proposal from November to restrict the allowable ground-level ozone concentration to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, from the current 75.

As ozone is a byproduct of pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels, state and local officials are likely to try to curb fossil-fuel use in order to bring areas into compliance with the standards.

Ozone has been linked to respiratory ailments, including asthma. The regulations have the strong backing of environmental, public health and medical groups, who cite the EPA’s estimate that the rule would bring $38 billion in benefits to the country.

The EPA has agreed in court to make the rule final by Oct. 1, so lobbyists have a few precious weeks to influence the Obama administration’s decision. The White House Office of Management and Budget started its final review of the standard on Aug. 28.

A NAM-commissioned study by Nera Economic Consulting found that compliance with a 65 parts-per-billion rule would cost $1.1 trillion, making it the most expensive rule ever. The EPA estimated a $16.6 billion annual cost by 2025.

Each opposition group has used its particular strengths in the effort, whether it’s lobbying Congress, meeting with the EPA or the White House, reaching out to state governors or state regulatory officials, talking with journalists or shelling out millions of dollars for advertisements, including a NAM ad during the blockbuster Republican presidential debate on Fox News in early August.

Many of the groups have also worked with state affiliated groups and municipal associations, resulting in a letter-writing campaign to the White House earlier this year from a bipartisan group of state and local politicians and small-business executives.

“The strategy of the campaign is to highlight state and local voices, whether they’re Democrat or Republican, that have significant concerns with EPA’s proposal,” said a public relations consultant working on the issue for many of the business associations.

Specifically, the businesses are focusing on people and constituencies to whom they believe President Obama would listen, including people in big cities, black leaders and Democrats in swing states.

It’s a strategy that was largely informed by Obama’s sudden 2011 decision to stop the EPA’s ozone standard revision. The White House cited concerns about costs, small businesses and development, among other issues, so opponents to this rule are hopeful they can convince Obama to do it again.

“They’re going to listen to people that they trust, and a lot of that is going to be in states that matter to them, which are the states we’re running ads in,” said Eisenberg.

So far, major ad campaigns from NAM have targeted Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

The coalition notched what they saw as two major victories in Colorado in August when Sen. Michael Bennet (D) came out in opposition to the regulation and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he was skeptical.

The American Petroleum Institute’s piece of the strategy has focused mainly on lobbying and paid advertising, said Howard Feldman, the group’s senior director of regulatory affairs.

Feldman and his colleagues have also been holding meetings in cities around the country to explain why cities are more likely to violate strong ozone standards.

“We ran ads during recess in select states and we will be moving those ads back into the Beltway,” Feldman said. “The data do not compel EPA to be tightening this standard.”

It’s an uphill battle for the business groups to fight the rule, since the Clean Air Act mandates that the EPA must update the standard every five years to a level that protects public health, and it is not allowed to consider the costs.

NAM and its allies argue that the current ozone standard is sufficient to protect human health, but the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee has unanimously said otherwise.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, predicted that the Obama administration would side with health experts and restrict the standard to at least some degree.

“In a political sense, it’s obviously a David and Goliath struggle,” O’Donnell said of the opponents’ efforts.

“The business groups are spending huge amounts of money in an attempt to either block EPA or minimize EPA’s actions,” he said, adding that the campaign appears to be “very comprehensive.”

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