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State Regulators Decry Burdensome Ozone Rule, Call on Congress to Pass Common Sense Reforms


State air regulators appearing before both the House and the Senate recently, urged Congress to help ease the burden imposed by the Obama Administration’s stringent 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone.

State officials and business leaders told Congress that the rule is unattainable in the near term and already causing “incalculable” losses.

Witnesses told Senators on the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)  2015 ozone rule, which lowered the standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, imposes onerous, duplicative and unworkable regulations on counties that will threaten jobs, economic growth and federal transportation funding.  The new rule was announced by the Obama Administration in October 2015 despite broad, bipartisan opposition from state and local officials, business groups and labor unions.

Ahron Hakimi, Executive Director for Kern Council of Governments in California’s San Joaquin Valley, told Senators that his region has to comply with several iterations of the same standard for ozone, each of which requires a separate attainment plan, leading to “multiple overlapping requirements and deadlines.” Furthermore, despite tens of billions of dollars in investment and an over 80 percent reduction in air pollution from businesses, Hakimi noted “we have reached a point where we cannot attain the federal standards even if we eliminated all Valley businesses, agricultural operations, or trucks traveling through the San Joaquin Valley.”

The Senate hearing focused on two bills designed to provide relief and regulatory certainty to states, especially in the West, that are struggling to comply with the stringent new ozone standard.  S. 263, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act, introduced by Subcommittee Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and S. 452, the Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length (ORDEAL) Act, sponsored by Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), would delay enforcement of the 2015 ozone standard until 2025 and extend EPA’s timeline for reviewing NAAQS from five years to ten years.

“We all want clean air and as a Nation we’ve come a long way since the Clean Air Act and its subsequent amendments. However, we ought to all be concerned about regulation that creates burdensome red-tape for little or no appreciable benefit,” said Senator Flake.

Misael Cabrera, Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, noted that many states are still working to comply with the 2008 standards, which weren’t fully implemented until March 2015. These bills “provide immediate relief to all states and some of Arizona’s industrialized areas, allowing enough time for measures required by the 2008 Ozone standard to fully take effect and air quality to improve,” Cabrera said.

Kyle Zeringue, Senior Vice President of Business Development for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, explained how the 2015 rule is already causing “incalculable economic loss.” He emphasized the need for legislation to “provide local and regional economies with a realistic timeline to come into attainment for the 2015 standards.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol members of the Environmental Subcommittee of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee heard from states on the need to expand their role in EPA rulemaking. Becky Keogh, Director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Energy Office, noted that the EPA treats states like “petulant children” when they should be treated like partners.

“The EPA under Obama routinely overstepped its authority, promulgating unnecessarily stringent standards without regard to state abilities or local expertise,” said Environmental Subcommittee Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ). “In implementing nation-wide ozone standards, to use one significant example, the agency chose an uninformed ‘one-size-fits-all’ regulatory agenda without regard to the unique challenges each state may face… Southwestern states like my home state of Arizona are unable to comply with this standard solely due to our geographic location, which the EPA conveniently ignores when issuing standards.”

Cabrera, who also testified before the House Subcommittee, further elaborated on how counties and states are being unfairly punished by background ozone – air pollution caused by sources outside of their control. “EPA’s own emissions calculations suggest that in certain areas of the state, especially in Yuma, Arizona, which will be found to be in non-attainment for the new ozone standard, the overall proportion of ozone comes from either California, Mexico or other international sources. So it puts us in a very awkward spot of applying regulation on a community that did not create the pollution.”

While this hearing marks the first step by the Senate to implement common sense reforms to the ozone standard, work is already underway in the House of Representatives.  Companion legislation, H.R. 806, was introduced by Rep. Pete Holsen (R-TX) and awaits action by the Energy and Commerce Committee following a legislative subcommittee hearing in March.

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