Five Things You Should Know Before the Senate EPW Hearing on EPA’s Ozone Proposal09/29/2015
By Karen Kerrigan
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing today about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to dramatically tighten the federal ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the range of 65 to 70 ppb. Here are five things you need to know for the Senate hearing scheduled just days before the agency’s expected announcement of the final rule before October 1st.
Local Representatives Across the Country Oppose a Tighter Ozone Standard
The Sierra Club released a letter last week attempting to show that 70 mayors support a lower ozone standard, but the signers to the letter, including mayors from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Elkhart, Indiana, believe that the current standard should be left in place.
Back in May, Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore had also asked the White House to instruct the EPA to “keep the current standards in place,” as the agency’s ozone proposal “will likely have unintended negative consequences,” “undermine our efforts to create jobs,” “discourage business growth and job creation,” and impose “a burden we cannot afford.”
The “support” shown in Sierra Club’s letter for a stricter ozone standard pales in comparison to the overwhelming opposition to such a proposal. For example, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the National Association of Regional Councils – which collectively represent 19,000 cities and mayors, 3,069 counties, and more than 500 regional councils – called on the EPA in March to retain the existing ozone standard:
“Given these financial and administrative burdens on local governments, we urge EPA to delay issuing new NAAQS [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] for ozone until the 2008 ozone standard is fully implemented.”
Majority of Voters Oppose Lowering the Ozone Standard
Earlier this month, the American Lung Association (ALA) released polling data that purportedly indicated “overwhelming support” for a tighter ozone standard. To arrive at such a conclusion, however, the ALA poll minimized the issue of cost and avoided a discussion of cost specifics completely – despite the bipartisan chorus of concerns from state and local officials, businesses, and labor groups over the potential costs of a stricter standard.
With costs in mind, the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, recast ALA’s poll – but with one extra question to determine how much voters are willing to pay for a stricter ozone standard. Once costs were factored in, support for the EPA’s ozone proposal plunged: CRS polling shows that 72 percent of the public are unwilling to pay more than $100 a year. Roughly half that number – 36 percent – said they would not be willing to pay anything at all. Therefore, when informed about a study that estimated that a stricter ozone standard would cost $830 every year per household, a majority of voters opposed the EPA’s plan outright.
Health Experts Weigh In: Ozone Does Not Cause Asthma
Even though the EPA claims that a lower ozone standard is needed in order to reduce the incidence of asthma, experts in the field, along with many state air-quality regulators, including officials from South Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas, have spoken out against drawing a connection between ozone and asthma in this way.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Tom Easterly said:
“The significant improvement in measured ozone air quality over the past 40 years should have drastically reduced both the number and severity of asthma attacks … But we can find no evidence that such a reduction has occurred.”
Researchers at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wrote:
“We agree that respiratory effects can occur at the high ozone concentrations that were measured in the 1980s and 1990s. The pertinent question is whether lowering the ozone standard from 75 ppb to 70 or 65 ppb will result in a measurable reduction in these effects. In this short review, we consider some important concerns with EPA’s conclusions about the health effects of ambient ozone concentrations. We conclude that EPA has not demonstrated that public health will measurably improve by decreasing the level of the ozone standard.”
Roger McClellan, past chair of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory committee, wrote:
“The EPA and the environmental lobby claim a stricter ozone standard is needed to reduce asthma cases. But these claims rely on much higher ozone levels from decades ago. Recent history does not support this claimed connection. In fact, for well over a decade, asthma cases have increased by millions while ozone concentrations have declined.”
Professor Tony Cox of the Colorado School of Public Health wrote:
“Fortunately, there is abundant historical data on ozone levels and asthma levels in U.S. cities and counties over the past 20 years, many of which have made great strides in reducing ambient levels of ozone by complying with existing regulations. It is easy to check whether adverse outcomes, from mortality rates to asthma rates, have decreased more where ozone levels have been reduced more. They have not. Even relatively large reductions in ozone, by 20% or more, have not been found to cause detectable reductions in deaths and illnesses from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, contrary to the EPA’s model-based predictions.”
Bipartisan Concern for the Ozone Proposal is Gaining Steam
- Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), along with Congressmen Pete Olson (R-Tex.) and Congressman Latta, introduced the “Clean Air, Strong Economies Act” (CASE Act), which would prohibit EPA from promulgating new standards until 85 percent of areas in “non-attainment” with the current 75 ppb standard come into compliance. It would also require the EPA Administrator to “take into consideration feasibility and cost” when establishing new standards.” Introducing the bill, Senator Manchin said, “We need the EPA and our federal government to work with us as allies, not as adversaries who continually implement onerous regulations and move the goalposts before we even have a chance to comply.”
- Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a bill last week that would allow local areas to enter into “Early Action Compact Plans” with EPA to take early action to prevent a non-attainment designation. Senator Hatch introduced the bill out of concern “that the EPA will simply set an air quality standard for ozone that is unattainable for many Western states.” Senator McCaskill said the bill “provides a pragmatic and reasonable path forward to help guard Missourians’ health, and Missourians’ livelihoods, while not accepting the false choices of jobs or the environment.”
- Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) warned that EPA’s proposal “doesn’t make any sense” and is “not going to work.”
- Congressman Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Congressman Gene Green (D-Tex.), and 135 of their colleagues in the House, sent EPA a bipartisan letter, calling its proposed ozone standard “costly,” “burdensome,” and “technologically difficult,” and asking EPA Administrator McCarthy to retain the current standard of 75 ppb.
Rumors of Political Interference
After EPA submitted their proposal to the Office of Management and Bureau (OMB) recommending a standard of 70 ppb in August, there have been reports of political interference by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and others pressuring the EPA to set the standard at 68 ppb. Concerned, Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), Chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough asking for communications between the Office of Management and Bureau and Budget or the Executive Office of the President and outside groups. In the letter, Congressman Smith wrote, “[I]t is even more troubling that whatever scientific analyses used by EPA to determine its final recommended limit are being disregarded by White House officials for purely political reasons.”
The consensus across the political spectrum, across local governments, and across diverse economic sectors is that the proposed federal ozone standard simply goes too far – and the EPA should keep the existing 75 ppb standard in place until that environmental benchmark is fully implemented.
Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council). The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Council.