Tightening Ozone Standards: Another EPA Assault On Louisiana

Four members of the Louisiana congressional delegation are up in arms with the Environmental Protection Agency today after a regulatory edict on ozone levels threatens to crush the state’s economy.

The four – Reps. Bill Cassidy, Steve Scalise, Charles Boustany and Rodney Alexander, signed on to a letter to EPA head Lisa Jackson demanding that higher standards for ozone levels be revisited before implementation. EPA is attempting, apparently by regulatory fiat and not through established procedure, to mandate that ozone “attainment levels” be improved across the country from the pre-2008 standard of .084 parts per million to somewhere between .060-.070 ppm. This, obviously, will cripple the state’s industrial sector.

The letter to Jackson, who is incidentally a native New Orleanian despite her agency’s seemingly relentless assault on Louisiana’s economy, reads as follows…

The Honorable Lisa Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson:

We write to you today to express our concern regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) reconsideration of the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone.  This action departs from the normal five-year NAAQS review schedule established by the Clean Air Act.   We strongly support protecting the environment and ensuring the health of our constituents, but we have serious concerns that EPA’s departure from regular order in relation to an Ozone NAAQS review will have a significant negative impact on the economies of our states without enhancing air quality.  We are concerned proposals to lower the recently revised NAAQS will hurt working families and greatly increase operating costs for manufacturers during this time of serious economic difficulty.

As you know, the Clean Air Act requires that EPA conduct a detailed review of each NAAQS every five years.  This review, with extensive process, public input and comment, was last completed for the ozone standard in 2008.  Some groups argued for a significant tightening of the standard and others, including respected members of the scientific community, believed that the existing ozone standard was adequately protective.  In the end, EPA strengthened its existing 0.084 ppm standard to a much more stringent 0.075 ppm, declared that level adequately protective of human health and the environment, and commenced preparations for the next five year review. 

When EPA changed the ozone standard in 2008, many of our states were still coming into attainment of the old .084 ppm standard, and suffered significant economic and growth restrictions under the required state implementation plan (SIP).  States must again revise their SIPs to meet EPA’s more stringent 0.075 ppm standard, with even more adverse economic impacts.

This year, despite being midway through the ongoing five year NAAQS review process, EPA has proposed to bypass the transparency and technical input afforded by that statutory process and apply a more aggressive and costly ozone mandate.  Moreover, it does not appear that EPA is relying on any new scientific evidence in its decision, but is simply using the same data from 2008 to now reach a different conclusion.    

Areas that will not be able to meet EPA’s proposed new NAAQS will face increased costs to businesses, restrictions on development and expansion, and limits on transportation funding.  EPA’s new proposed standard could nearly triple the number of nonattainment areas and, under the high end of EPA’s own estimate, add $90 billion dollars per year to already high operating costs faced by  manufacturers, agriculture, and other sectors.  

In addition, recent studies indicate that each affected state could lose tens of thousands of jobs, if not more.  If our local businesses can’t compete, our constituents will lose their jobs, their health care and other employee benefits for their families.  Our communities will also lose local tax revenue critical to funding public education and municipal infrastructure. 

We believe that we can and should continue to improve our environment, but we are concerned that EPA’s action has real, detrimental impacts on the people they are trying to protect.  Given the heavy job loss potential this policy could result in and the absence of any new scientific data, we strongly believe changing the current NAAQS standard outside of the ongoing five year review process is unnecessary.

The Congressmen are following up to some degree on another letter, this one from the Baton Rouge Clean Air Coalition – a consortium of state regulatory agencies, business groups and academicians – which had objected to increased EPA mandates on ozone for several reasons. Among them…

  • “We have reviewed EPA’s report and analysis of studies used to support revision of the ozone standard and find the health impact assessments very tenuous. … This information certainly doesn’t provide a strong, irrefutable basis for a decision with the potential impacts of a lower ozone standard.”
  • “Louisiana’s ozone problems are minor and the imposition of the new lower ozone standards is unwarranted overreach by EPA”
  • “…at the lower end of EPA’s proposed primary ozone standard, every monitoring site in the state would be designated nonattainment.”
  • “Increased costs for utilities, fuel, food, consumer goods, etc. that will accompany the implementation of a new, lower ozone standard will likely reduce the standard of living for many and may force families with limited budgets to reduce spending for nutrition and health care.”
  • “Each of the parishes designated nonattainment under the proposed standards will have their economic development activities seriously impaired by the stigma of ozone nonattainment. Industries in these parishes will see increased regulatory burdens, more costly emission controls, extensive monitoring and reporting, and more difficult permitting. Communities in these parishes can expect to be subject to auto emissions testing, possible transportation restrictions, and requirements that their transportation plans conform to state ozone attainment plans. Most of the potentially‐affected parishes do not have the financial and human resources to deal with the new federal regulatory burdens.”

The long and short of the new EPA rule will be another significant imposition of cost upon Louisiana’s economy at a time the state simply can’t afford a new rope around its neck. If you’re in a “non-attainment” area, which virtually each of the state’s markets will become should a new standard take effect, industrial permits will be impossible to get. That could wipe out efforts to lure Hawker Beechcraft to Baton Rouge or halt the planned construction of Nucor Steel’s facility in St. James Parish, not to mention any significant upgrades or expansions to refineries or petrochemical plants along the Mississippi.

But that’s not all. Because traffic is a generator of ozone, road projects in “non-attainment” areas will likely be halted. That’s lousy news for the future of Baton Rouge’s infrastructure, and it’s also likely a death knell for the completion of I-49 where it isn’t finished.

And the fact that the EPA’s rules on permitting will require the purchase of “offsets” for emissions merely impose Cap And Trade through regulatory fiat.

The good news here is that the EPA isn’t the only player in the game. In 2008, the Bush administration proposed pushing the .084 ppm standard to .075 ppm, but legal challenges kept that standard from being implemented. The same will likely happen now. And the GOP majority in the House beginning in January will have the ability to rein in the EPA through the power of the purse.

Still, there are those who are pleased with the EPA’s attempts to tighten the noose. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a group which has camped out in court on this issue in the past, hails the new standard of .060-.070 ppm.

“We will be thrilled if they get to that number,” said Mary Lee Orr, LEAN executive director. “The citizens will be so happy to have more protective standards for themselves. It’s taken a long time to get here.”

Whether the “citizens” will be happy with the loss of blue-collar jobs in Louisiana industry as a result of efforts to attain an imperceptible reduction in ozone is debatable. But another Usual Suspect in the emissions battle, Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic, is crowing as well. Said Adam Babitch, a spokesman for the law clinic…

“It should mean cleaner air and fewer health care problems,” Babitch said. “The bottom line is that Baton Rouge has never been in compliance. We have made progress, but it’s a dollar late and day short.”

Baton Rouge, in fact, met EPA standards on ozone in September for the first time since the standards were enacted. Babitch is correct that if the EPA continues to move the goalposts the five-parish area around the Capitol City will remain in noncompliance. Compliance with the national unemployment rate, however, might be more attainable if the industrial sector is subjected to harsher regulation.



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