Congress should block EPA effort to impose lower ozone standard

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Just think of the Environmental Protection Agency as the princess and ozone as the pea, and you will get some idea of the scope of the problem.

In 2008, the EPA set the ground-level ozone standard for air quality at 75 parts per billion (ppb). That’s parts per billion with a B. Think of 1 ppb as the equivalent of one drop of ink in the tank of the largest gasoline tanker truck.

Ozone is formed from the emissions of vehicles, power plants and factories, as well as naturally from vegetation and fires.

But now the EPA is signaling that it intends to cut the standard to 70 or 60 ppb — five or 15 drops fewer — even though the states have not yet fully implemented the 2008 standard.

The agency claims this would reduce annual ozone-related premature deaths by 8,000 — a highly debatable conclusion.

One of the most frequently cited benefits of reducing ozone is to children with asthma.

“While ozone can trigger asthma attacks, the effect is small,” said a Heartland Institute report from several years ago. “According to estimates by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), eliminating virtually all human-caused ozone in California — where millions of people live in areas with by far the highest ozone levels in the country — would reduce asthma-related emergency room (ER) visits by only 1.8 percent.”

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of this proposed regulation is what those nine mattresses for the princess will cost.

A study by NERA Economic Consulting, commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, estimates the lower ozone standard would cost the economy $270 billion a year — the most expensive regulation ever imposed on American businesses — and eliminate the equivalent of 2.9 million jobs a year through 2040.

The price of residential electricity would increase 15 percent on average across the nation, while the price of natural gas would jump 32 percent.

The study said that manufacturers in non-attainment areas will not be able to expand operations unless another business in the area reduces emissions or closes its doors. Economic growth in these regions would nearly come to a standstill.

Nevada, which has been largely unaffected by the 2008 ozone standard, would be impacted even in rural counties.

The study says the Silver State’s gross state product would be reduced by $19 billion from 2017 to 2040, costing 11,224 jobs a year.

And that is assuming the standard is even achievable. NERA Economic Consulting notes the EPA has identified only 39 percent of the controls needed to meet the standard. The remaining 61 percent has yet to be identified, which leaves the firm to suggest this would likely result in early scrapping of plants, equipment and vehicles — a huge capital cost.

Compliance will mean shutting down or modifying power plants, factories, heavy-duty vehicles, farm equipment, off-road vehicles and passenger cars. For Nevadans it will cost $23 million more to own and operate vehicles.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, pointed out that such a state-by-state rule is especially unfair to Nevada. In addition to the ozone that blows in from California, an increasing amount of the 85 percent of Nevada that is federal public land is burned by wildfire every year, adding untold amounts of ozone to our air.

“The problem is the damned bad air fails to respect borders, so the bad air which comes off the Mojave Desert and from California’s urban areas becomes our problem to solve at the state level under this scheme when we have no control or jurisdiction over the sources of the pollution,” Bacon replied to an email inquiry.

“While the Commerce Clause (of the Constitution) is supposed to promote equitable commerce between the states,” Bacon writes, “I think killing commerce on a basis of something over which the state has no jurisdiction is, or at least should be, a violation of the intent of the section of the law.”

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, has introduced an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill that would stop the EPA from imposing the ozone standard.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator, should put the Thune amendment on the floor for a vote as soon as Senate returns from recess. He and Sen. Dean Heller should vote aye for the sake of Nevadans’ pocketbooks and jobs. — TM

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