The Trump administration appears set to try and repeal ground-level ozone rules established during the Obama administration. The current Department of Justice has asked a federal district court to postpone a hearing on the matter so that the Environmental Protection Agency can review the law.
Ozone pollution is the direct result of burning fossil fuels and operating factories. Nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds form as a result, leading to ground-level smog. That, in turn, can cause respiratory illness in children and the elderly.
The current ozone rule, which was finalized in 2015, sets the standard at 70-parts per billion. Under the Bush administration, it had been 75-parts per billion — a rule adopted in 2008. The Clean Air Act requires a review of the law every five years, although it does not necessitate that it be changed.
While President Trump has never explicitly said he would repeal the ozone rule, manufacturers and oil and gas developers are saying that the 2015 rule is too costly and that it is hurting economic growth. That said, those same groups earned a victory of sorts with regard to the 2015 ozone rule because the Obama team backed off its efforts to lower that standard to as little as 60-parts per billion.
“EPA intends to closely review the 2015 rule, and the prior positions taken by the agency with respect to the 2015 rule may not necessarily reflect its ultimate conclusions after that review is complete,” the Department of Justice wrote last week to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The Obama-era ozone rules would produce benefits of $3 billion to $6 billion a year, say advocates, while the cost of it would be about $1.4 billion annually. However, the Trump administration says that ratio of costs to benefits is tighter than that and concludes that the benefits come not from reducing ground-level ozone pollution — or smog — but from cutting particulate matter. That’s why it says it wants more time to review the 2015 ruling.
As it stands now, state and metropolitan governments would need to be in compliance with the 70-parts per billion standard by 2025. If they are not, then the federal government could withhold federal funding for such things as highways. It would be EPA’s job to monitor the market.
In February, however, lawmakers introduced a bill to delay the 70-parts per billion standard until 2025.
“Manufacturers are encouraged to see House leaders pursue much-needed legislation to reduce the burdens and inflexibilities associated with the 2015 ozone standards,” Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resource policy for the National Association of Manufacturers said.
“Manufacturers will continue creating the products and solutions that will allow for even lower emissions and a more sustainable future, but we need the right policies in place to grow and innovate,” he added.
The group earlier released an analysis written by NERA Economic Consulting that said that the 65-parts per billion threshold would have been harmful to the economy: $140 billion per year hit to gross domestic product between 2017 and 2040, or a loss of $1.7 trillion in all. The study also added that 1.4 million jobs would have been lost.
The US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute are among the business groups and fossil fuel representatives to support the manufacturers’ position. They also point out that ozone levels have fallen 30% since 1980.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had formally opposed the 2016 ozone rule when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. However, his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, had said that the 75-parts per billion standard was insufficient and had endangered children and the elderly. She even worried aloud whether 70-parts per billion would be adequate. Meanwhile, environmental groups have pointed out that the economy has greatly expanded since the 1970 Clean Air Act took effect.
The 70-parts per billion was thus a compromise between those who demanded no changes in the law to those who wanted it to be at 60-parts per billion. “In this case, the science to me seems pretty clear,” McCarthy said, as quoted in the Huffington Post. “While there are no bright lines, I am convinced that at 70 we are doing what [the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee] said.”
The latest discussion over air quality comes in the context of a March 26th executive order directing EPA to review air quality standards and specifically those aimed at cutting carbon dioxide and methane levels. Any changes to the ozone rule — not mentioned in the order — would require legislation or a regulatory rollback, both of which would be time consuming and difficult to do.