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Colorado’s Democratic Governor Says Suspending New Ozone Standard ‘A Great Idea’

03/31/2016

Denver, Colo. – Suspending a strict new ozone standard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be a “great idea” because of the challenges posed by background ozone levels, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said today.

Gov. Hickenlooper was participating in a discussion panel hosted by the Colorado Petroleum Council and the American Petroleum Institute in Denver. On the subject of ozone, he said the following:

“So I think it would be a great idea if they suspended the standard. I mean, just with the background [ozone], if you’re not going to be able to conform to a standard like this, you are leaving the risk or the possibility that there will be penalties of one sort or another that come from your lack of compliance. Obviously, no different than any business, states want to have as much predictability as possible, and I think if they suspend the standards, it’s not going to slow us down from continuing to try and make our air cleaner. …

You know, we’re a mile high. Air quality issues affect us more directly than they do at lower elevations. So we’re going to keep pushing it, we’re not going to back off, we’re going to continue to improve the air quality in the state every year if I have anything to say about it, but at the same time, those standards, you know, to be punitive when you’re working as hard as you can … to get cleaner air as rapidly as you can, it seems like it’s not the most constructive stance.”

Last year, Gov. Hickenlooper joined U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) in expressing serious concerns about the impact of a tighter ozone standard on Colorado. However, in October 2015, the EPA announced it was tightening the federal ozone standard anyway. The EPA ratcheted the standard down from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, despite board bipartisan opposition to the move. Then, in a quietly released report, the EPA later conceded the Denver metropolitan area will be unable to meet the stringent new ozone standard by 2025, due to “background ozone.”

Background ozone comes from a combination of sources beyond the control of state and local regulators, including air pollution from outside the state, emissions from other countries, and natural sources such as forest fires. Earlier this month, two leading members of the Colorado state legislature – one Democrat and one Republican — demanded a halt to the EPA’s damaging ozone agenda in comments provided to the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. Here is a recap of their comments:

State Senator Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge):

“This whole situation is a mess. EPA officials did an abysmal job with the prior standard of 75 ppb, set in 2008. Instead of working with states to implement those ozone rules, they have been obsessed with changing the rules until they are completely unworkable.

“Even the EPA admits the new standard of 70 ppb is practically impossible for Denver to meet, because of background ozone that we can’t control. Now we are facing long-term violation of the new standard, which will impose all kinds of new controls and restrictions on the economy, small businesses and investments in transportation infrastructure. EPA officials have claimed they will develop a fix for the background ozone issue, but they should have worked all that out before setting the new standard in the first place.

“If the EPA cares about protecting the health of Colorado families, it will suspend the enforcement of the new 70 ppb standard until there is a real solution to the threat from background ozone. We need solutions based on increased analysis and better science. Anything less than that will be setting Colorado up to fail.”

State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling):

“I have always opposed the EPA’s strict new ozone standard because of the control it will give federal bureaucrats over basic planning decisions here in Colorado. The new limit of 70 parts per billion is completely unrealistic. It will penalize our state for background levels of ozone that come from outside Colorado and from natural sources like wildfires. Even the EPA admits Front Range communities have no hope of reaching the new standard by 2025 because of background ozone.

“Yet again the EPA has gone too far, imposing pointless and job-killing federal mandates on states and local governments. If the EPA ties down the Colorado economy with even more red tape, small businesses, family farms, working families and seniors on fixed incomes will be hit the hardest. Therefore, I am calling on the EPA to immediately halt the implementation of this punitive ozone rule, and leave in place the prior standard of 75 parts per billion.”

In late February, at an EPA workshop in Phoenix, Ariz., the agency faced stiff opposition from state air regulators and business leaders – especially those from Western states. In the face of this criticism, the EPA admitted the Intermountain West is the “most problematic” region for addressing background ozone, and states like Colorado have “a very complicated puzzle to untangle” if they hope to stay out of violation with the new 70 ppb ozone standard. More recently, The Denver Post editorial board has warned background ozone will make compliance in Colorado “particularly difficult” and rebuked the environmental activists who “blithely pushed for a far stricter standard.” In addition, an air quality researcher at Denver University predicted the Front Range will never comply with the 70 ppb standard, and the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s editorial board called for the EPA to stand down until the agency can guarantee “communities won’t be unfairly blamed for pollution they didn’t cause.”

As CRS showed last year, in a report called “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse,” the stringent new standard threatens to impose damaging regulatory restrictions across most of Colorado’s economy. The report also detailed a bipartisan wave of opposition to the EPA’s ozone agenda in Colorado, especially because of the EPA’s failure to account for high levels of background ozone, which make the new standard extremely difficult – if not impossible – to meet.

Highlights from the August 2015 report on Colorado and the EPA’s ozone agenda:

State Senator Ellen Roberts (R):

“If the EPA carries out this ozone plan, Western Colorado will be placed at a terrible economic disadvantage. We have worked hard to responsibly care for our environment even as we grow and diversify our economy.

“Tightening the ozone standard any further just does not make sense when the existing standard, which is less than 10 years old, is working. I urge the EPA to reconsider this plan and leave the 2008 standard in place.”

State Senator Mary Hodge (D):

“The EPA may have good intentions, but this ozone proposal goes too far. In Colorado, we have a strong record of growing the economy and cleaning the air using commonsense environmental regulations. Unrealistic mandates from Washington, D.C. will only hurt the Front Range economy and working families.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Don Rosier (R):

“The ozone standards being considered by the EPA simply go too far. The Denver metro area has made great improvements in air quality since the days of the Brown Cloud. And in doing so we have reached a balance that works for our region.

“But these proposed limits would put that balance at risk, along with our ability to foster the economic opportunity that our area has become known for.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo (R):

“It’s undeniable that the negative impact of the proposed ozone standard will be felt in people’s day-to-day lives. Coloradans are certain to face longer commutes and even worse traffic as a result of increased red tape from the federal EPA.

“These rigid ozone standards could slow down the approval of new road projects, cause long delays on important infrastructure improvements, and in some cases stop projects completely because of onerous emission caps.”

Routt County Commissioners Douglas Monger (D), Cari Hermacinski (R), Timothy Corrigan (D):

“We set and meet high standards because we know it is good for our people and our state. So you might expect us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards for ground-level ozone. Those standards, however, are too overbearing and are meeting with a lot of resistance even in places where air quality regulations are welcome…

“These standards must not be implemented. If they go forward as proposed, they will do more than put good people out of work and cause hardships for communities that have done so much to protect the land, air and water around them. They will turn away a lot of people who have been receptive to the idea that government can be trusted to do environmental regulation the right way.”

About CRS

The Center for Regulatory Solutions is a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a 501c(4) advocacy, research, education and networking organization dedicated to protecting small business and promoting entrepreneurship. For twenty-three years, SBE Council has worked to educate elected officials, policymakers, business leaders and the public about policies that enable business start-up and growth.

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