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McCown: Denver’s Ozone Dilemma Shows The Need For Regulatory Reform (Denver Business Journal)


Writing in the Denver Business Journal today, Brigham McCown, transportation and energy regulator under President George W. Bush, explains why Denver’s ozone battle shows need for regulatory reform. Excerpts from the column below:

Last year, the [EPA]  further ratcheted down the NAAQS for ozone – a component of smog – to 70 parts per billion. The change was made by the EPA despite opposition from thousands of local governments, state lawmakers, business organizations and labor unions.

State environmental regulators from across the West – including Colorado – also complained about the new standard because it was set too close to background levels of ozone, which don’t come from local sources like cars, trucks and factories.

Instead, these levels originate from other states, other countries like Mexico and China and from natural sources like wildfires. In effect, communities across the West would be penalized for ozone they did not create.

What’s worse for Denver is that despite being a national leader on air quality, the Mile High City cannot meet the new standard by 2025, according to an EPA research paper on background ozone.


Using federal highway dollars as leverage, the EPA can force state transportation officials to redirect spending away from roads. The theory goes that getting people out of cars will reduce tailpipe emissions. In reality, restricting spending on roads creates more congestion, and more emissions, because cars and trucks stuck in traffic burn more fuel.


Before the EPA announced the new ozone standard, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, questioned why federal officials would “set up a standard where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. went further, saying it “doesn’t make any sense” to punish Colorado for background ozone “from other Western states, from across the globe [and] from wildfires.”


Although well intentioned, cities should not fear their development will be curtailed until the EPA finds a better method to address background ozone. Moreover, the time has come to reform the Clean Air Act in order to provide more flexibility to states, local governments and other stakeholders. For the sake of Colorado, and the nation, let’s hope the senator’s wise words are supported by effective actions.

For the full op-ed, click HERE.