Proposal to change ground-level ozone standard could cost trillions

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2014

It is not surprising that the Obama Administration chose to announce its latest environmental regulation on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday. With Americans traveling and families busy preparing meals for loved ones, there was a good chance that the costly and unnecessary proposal could slip by unnoticed.
This particular regulation, however, was too outrageous to miss. In proposing to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching what could be its most expensive rulemaking to date. According to a study done by the National Association of Manufacturers, the move would be devastating to the economy, slashing GDP by $3.4 trillion and costing 2.9 million jobs by 2040.
Economic Burden Would Outweigh Health Benefits
Specifically, the proposed rule targets ground-level ozone, which contributes to smog as pollutants in the air react to heat from the sun. Unlike the stratospheric ozone layer that protects Earth from ultraviolet rays, high levels of ground-level ozone can be harmful to human health. The basic purpose of EPA’s air quality standard is to ensure that ozone does not reach these dangerous levels. The existing standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb), established in 2008, adequately protects the health of our citizens. In fact, air quality has improved, even though this benchmark has yet to be fully implemented.
It is curious, then, that the Obama Administration now wants to release an even stricter standard, when such a rule would cause significant economic harm while providing little or no help to the environment. The President acknowledged as much when he refused to take action on a similar proposal in 2011. Local governments and U.S. businesses would be faced with a costly directive to reduce ozone, ultimately hurting economic development and job creation. Working families would surely face the impact, too, as energy prices rise and new job opportunities dwindle.
Moreover, most of the country would not be able to comply with the Administration’s compulsory ozone levels of 65 to 70 ppb. Even now, 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas that do not meet the existing standard. Although our state lacks major smog-filled metropolitan areas, at least five Mississippi counties would fail to meet 65 ppb. Areas like DeSoto County would be especially disadvantaged because of nearby cities like Memphis.
Legislation Challenges Administration’s Extreme Agenda
I am a cosponsor of two bills in the Senate that would push back against EPA’s latest rulemaking. One of these measures, known as the “Clean Air, Strong Economies Act,” would prohibit EPA from implementing the more stringent standard until 85 percent of counties currently in “non-attainment” can comply with existing levels. Introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the legislation would also require EPA to assess the rule’s costs and feasibility, which it has not taken into account.
Another bill, authored by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would delay a final version of the ozone rule until 2018.
Titled the “Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length Act,” it would also extend the time between revisions of air quality standards by five years, giving counties more time to enact compliance plans.
I am disappointed that the Obama Administration continues to pursue a costly environmental agenda when 9 million Americans remain without work. It is clear that the President anticipated the ozone rule would be unpopular, releasing it with more than 3,000 other regulations before Thanksgiving.
But keeping his extensive bureaucratic agenda quiet does not change its negative impact.
I am hopeful Congress will use its power to provide proper oversight and rein in this Administration’s excessive executive overreach.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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