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State Environmental Regulators Question EPA’s Ozone Overreach

06/04/2015

You know the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone ambitions have gone too far when state-level environmental agencies start speaking publicly about their grave concerns.

For example, environmental regulators in Colorado recently stated that “very high background levels” of ozone “make the issue particularly challenging in the West.” In an interview with Energy In Depth, a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the head of Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division also said the American Lung Association is wrong for suggesting air quality is getting worse when, in fact, “it’s gotten a lot better.”

In another Energy In Depth interview this week, an environmental regulator from Texas lifted the lid on the research behind the EPA’s ozone agenda. The EPA’s plan, which could cost $140 billion a year and be the most expensive regulation ever imposed by the U.S. government, isn’t supported by science, said Michael Honeycutt, Ph.D., of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The Center for Regulatory Solutions has previously highlighted Honeycutt’s insights into the troubling inconsistencies behind the EPA’s ozone arguments.

For example, he warned  the EPA’s ozone plan could force “monstrous” changes to daily life without actually improving public health, including restrictions on driving as states will have to “get cars off the road,” in order to have any chance of meeting the standards.  Honeycutt’s interview followed the publication of a paper by TCEQ officials in EM Magazine which essentially rips apart EPA’s argument for tightening the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) into the 65-70 ppb range. According to Energy In Depth, that paper describes EPA’s sources as “very inconsistent,” “misleading,” “unrealistic,” “critically flawed,” and “implausible.”

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Q: The EPA says it’s bringing the national ozone standard “in line with the latest science” and there will be significant health benefits, such as preventing 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks. What’s your view?

Honeycutt: I don’t think the EPA can really back those claims up with science, if you really look at the data.

There are epidemiology studies, there are toxicology studies and there are clinical studies. The EPA is basing a lot of their claims on epidemiology studies. The most common kind of epidemiology study regarding ozone is a retrospective study where a researcher will go into an area and find out how many hospital admissions there were on a certain day, and what the ozone concentration was on that day. Then, sometime later, the researcher will measure hospital admissions and ozone concentrations again. If hospital admissions and ozone are both higher the second time, the researcher will say ozone was responsible for the increase.

But that assumes ozone was the only factor that changed. A number of studies have done that, and what you find is they’re very inconsistent. Most studies that look at multiple factors like pollen or other pollutants, and controlled for those other factors, do not find an effect from ozone.

If there are pets inside, or cockroaches, those are very potent inducers of asthma attacks. Smoking is another example. Second-hand smoke is a big factor when it comes to asthma.

Q: What does the data since the 1990s say about ozone and health conditions, such as asthma?

Honeycutt: Asthma cases and asthma attacks have increased while ozone concentrations have gone down. If they were linked, you would expect asthma incidences to go down, too. But they’re not. They are continuing to rise, and that’s just a huge clue that one does not have an impact on the other.

Q: Outside groups, such as the American Lung Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have made their own claims about air quality. As a public health official and environmental regulator, what do you think of those claims?

Honeycutt: They rely on old data and ignore the new data. For example, 2014 was a great year not only for Texas but across the country for ozone.

On a typical summer day, even when we are issuing ozone alerts based on an 8-hour averaging time, overall the air quality outside is still better in general than air quality indoors. So, are we going to tell kids to stay indoors and breathe worse air instead of getting outside and playing during recess at school?

Q: If the ozone standard is tightened, what kind of regulatory actions will it take to meet the standard, and how much control will the EPA have over what states do?

Honeycutt: Good question. A lot of states are going to have to ramp up and start doing State Implementation Plans to reduce ozone. And what they are going to find is industrial activity isn’t the biggest contributor. It’s the cars.

If it’s at 65 parts per billion, it’s going to take dramatic lifestyle differences, because we are going to have to get cars off the road.

It’s going to take no drive days, closing down drive-thru lanes and things like that. People think this is hyperbole, but if we are going to meet the deadline of a few years to meet the new standard, it’s going to take dramatic lifestyle changes to reduce vehicle miles traveled. We’re also going to have to regulate construction activity. People aren’t thinking about the ripple effect, and it’s going to be dramatic.

The full interview transcript can be accessed here: http://energyindepth.org/texas/texas-environmental-regulators-refute-epas-ozone-claims/