In Ohio, business and clean air advocates spar over EPA ozone rule

An upcoming Environmental Protection Agency ruling that would further reduce ground-level ozone levels has prompted a backlash from one of the nation’s largest business groups, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

Clean air advocates, meanwhile, say the campaign is another example in a long history of industry groups crying wolf about pollution regulations.

“Unless I missed it somewhere in my career, the EPA has never tanked the economy, and the part of the story you don’t get from NAM and the others is that the EPA is required to do this,” said Nachy Kanfer, deputy director, central region for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The EPA, facing legal challenges that the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) is inadequate, plans to amend the rule down to a range of 65 to 70 ppb. When the ruling is finalized, and rolled out on Oct. 1, the standard will be a set amount, not a range.

States in which localities violate the new limit will have several years to come into compliance.

Ozone, though not emitted directly into the air, is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), in the presence of heat and sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, automobile exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are some of the major sources.

Breathing ground-level ozone can result in a variety of health problems for children and the elderly and for people of all ages who suffer lung diseases, such as asthma. It can also harm sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

The ad spot the NAM has aired in Ohio cites a 33 percent drop in ozone levels nationwide since 1980, and projects a continued decline though current “ozone laws haven’t even been fully implemented yet.”

In conjunction, the NAM released a statement saying the EPA’s proposal “could hit the state hard,” resulting in losses of $23 billion in GDP and the equivalent of nearly 23,000 jobs per year. On a national level, it could be “the most expensive regulation in U.S. history,” amounting to $140 billion in lost GDP annually, with a “compliance price tag of $1.8 trillion from 2017 to 2040.”

The association cites a study it commissioned from the National Economic Research Associates Economic Consulting as the source for the numbers.

The NAM ran national TV ads, and also aired statewide spots in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Greg Bertelsen, the association’s director of energy and resources policy, said that the campaign’s objective, as the new ozone ruling went under review at the White House, was to make sure lawmakers understand its potential impact.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns that lowering the ozone standard, “could cause large parts of the country to fall into nonattainment. Counties and areas classified as nonattainment can suffer stringent penalties.”

The Chamber said that resultant penalties could include the EPA overriding states on permitting decisions while federally supported highway and transportation projects could be suspended. Moreover, new and old facilities alike would have to install the “most effective emission reduction technologies without consideration of cost.”

‘Every time they’re proven wrong’

“There’s a lot of noise out there and most of it is bunk,” said Kanfer. “Every time common sense rulings relating to the Clean Air Act come out, industry freaks out, and every time they’re proven wrong.”

Trish Demeter, managing director of energy and clean air programs for the Ohio Environmental Council said, “NAM’s ads are a distraction of the real issue, which is how we have an obligation to protect those weakest among us.

“In the case of the ground-level ozone standard, it’s about ensuring children and older Ohioans in particular can breathe easy. Opponents of common sense rules seem to overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits. According to the American Lung Association, millions of Ohioans who are vulnerable to poor air quality will benefit from this rule, resulting between, depending on the final level set by the US EPA, 6.4 to 28 billion dollars in health benefits.”

Most areas of the state are already taking actions to reduce their respective ozone levels, Demeter said. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, and Franklin County, which is home to the state’s capitol, Columbus, are the only two that would be out of compliance if the standard is set at 65 ppb. Yet she’s confident they would work to come into compliance in that event.

The EPA’s forthcoming ruling for stricter ground-level ozone comes on the heels of the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants. Attorneys general from 16 states, including Ohio, recently filed a lawsuit against the EPA challenging the legality of the plan.

Against this backdrop, a legislative committee tasked with reviewing Ohio Senate Bill 310, which last year placed a two-year freeze on the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards, faces a deadline at the end of this month to make its recommendations to the full legislature. Green energy advocates have expressed uncertainty on whether or not the committee will recommend more changes.

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