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Ozone rules tighten regulatory vise grip on economy

The Obama administration’s proposed ozone rule – expected to be finalized later this year – is stirring up a hornet’s nest. Under the administration’s plan, the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone would be reduced from the current 75 parts per billion to a range of 65-70 ppb.

That may not seem to be a big deal at first glance, but it is. In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers claims, “This proposed regulation could be the most costly ever, with an estimated economic cost of $140 billion per year.”

Project_Cancelled_Feature_07-2015The nation’s mayors, meanwhile, wrote the president to ask him to delay finalizing the rule because of the economic pain it will cause many American towns and cities.

As the mayors’ letter points out, “By EPA’s own estimates, under a 70 ppb standard, 358 counties and their cities would be in violation; under a 65 ppb standard, an additional 558 counties and their cities would be in violation.”

It’s non-attainment nation. All told 34 states could find themselves in non-compliance with the new standards. Even national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone won’t be in compliance with a 65 ppb standard!

What does it mean to be in violation?

The answer became a little clearer today thanks to work by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Its Institute for 21st Century Energy released a study looking at the economic impacts for the many metropolitan regions not expected to be in compliance with the new standard.

The study focused on one metropolitan region in particular – Washington, D.C.  Specifically, it investigated the impact of the new NAAQS regulations on transportation projects, which is particularly timely given the forthcoming Congressional debate over transportation funding.

What it found is not encouraging for the residents of the District of Columbia and its environs, who suffer some of the worst traffic in the nation.

The Chamber notes a number of transportation “conformity lapses” that could actually cause the cutoff of federal transportation funding:

These cutoffs in funding and other associated impacts will serve not only to worsen the economic costs of the rulemaking, but they will also impose a literal roadblock on efforts to address the stifling congestion and critical state of disrepair of America’s roads, bridges, and transit systems in growing cities such as Washington, D.C.

The study notes that municipalities like Washington might be forced to cancel planned – and critically needed – infrastructure projects and improvements. Moreover, they may impose restrictions on stationary sources of emissions such as factories or power plants.

None of this is helped by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own admission that there are exceedingly limited technological options to reduce emissions. In fact, according to EPA, approximately 40 percent of the necessary reductions to comply with a 65 ppb standard will have to be met by technologies not yet invented.

It’s not clear why EPA is pushing this new standard in the absence of evidence it would significantly improve human health. The courts have ruled against claims that the current standard is inadequate to protect human health.

And let’s not forget that air quality has improved dramatically over the past decade, and there is every indication it will continue to improve under current regulations.

The mayors who wrote to President Obama had it right. The last thing the economy needs right now is a regulatory vise grip choking off growth and development.

We would all be better off if the administration were to shelve its proposed regulation and spare the economy any more pain.



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