EPA Takes Run at Tightening Regulations on Air Emissions Tied to Ground-level Ozone

I'm lost in the ozone again
I'm lost in the ozone again
One drink of wine, two drinks of gin, and
I'm lost in the ozone again

-- “Lost in the Ozone,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

The EPA, on Nov. 25, 2014, took another attempt at promulgating regulations governing air emissions responsible for the creation of ground-level ozone, which is the primary component of smog.

This proposed regulation will tighten requirements by reducing the eight-hour primary (public health) and secondary (public welfare) standards for ozone to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) and is also asking for comments on whether the primary standard should be reduced further to 60 ppb. As with a previous reduction of the ground-level ozone levels in the 1990s, industry and business groups allege that the cost of this regulation will be too expensive.

The path that EPA took in drafting this regulation was anything but a straight one. In one of the first actions by President Barack Obama’s EPA, then-Administrator Lisa Jackson reviewed many Bush-era EPA regulations, including the ground-level ozone rules. The Bush-era EPA set the ozone level at a higher level than its scientific advisory panel recommended. Since that time, environmental and public welfare groups have urged EPA to revisit the rule.

High levels of ozone can result in impaired lung function and premature deaths. It also negatively affects vegetation, including crops, and other living things. And, of course, smog covers everything in a layer of dense smoke. It is created when nitrogen oxide and volatile organic chemicals mix and get heated.

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA must establish air quality standards based on the best available scientific evidence. It establishes a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) which is based on what science determines is “clean” and “safe,” with an adequate margin of safety incorporated.

“Primary” standards that are based on public health, including consideration of effects of air pollutants on sensitive populations (e.g., older adults, children, people with asthma). There are also secondary” standards, which provide protection to plants, animals, crops, buildings and also relevant are considerations of visibility. The levels of contaminants are measured over a period of time (a “measuring time”) to get an average contaminant level. The CAA does not allow EPA to consider costs to implement the regulation in establishing the standards.

EPA intended for new rules to go into effect in January 2011. It later decided to delay the rule and have new rules in place by August 2011. EPA again delayed the proposed rule to consider new scientific data concerning the health effects of ozone. Environmental groups’ efforts to force EPA to issue a rule sooner failed.

EPA finally decided to promulgate the proposed rule after public comment and notice. It expects that the final benefits related to health will save significant numbers of lives, avoid serious ozone-related health effects and exceed the costs to implement the regulations. Of course, businesses tend to disagree with this assessment and legal challenges are likely to follow.

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