Manufacturers are fighting to stop a new Environmental Protection Agency plan to curb ozone that they say would deliver a devastating blow to the economy and job growth by creating tougher pollution laws.
The EPA wants to cut the national ambient air-quality standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion, which would push thousands of communities over the current limit of 75 ppb. That, in turn, would make it more difficult to attract new business.
“Is this really another uncertainty you want to throw at the business community right now?” asked Ross Eisenberg, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s environment and energy counsel. “It just doesn’t make much sense.”
Business leaders from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, American Chemistry Council and Business Roundtable plan to hold a press conference on Tuesday to attack the EPA’s plan. The Business Roundtable sent a letter to the White House last week, warning this could stall the recovery.
Environmental groups, however, say lowering the limit is vital to the population’s health, and call this a “last-ditch effort” by business groups and congressional Republicans to “sidetrack the decision.”
The EPA sent its proposal to the White House last week. The final decision will be made by the end of the month.
“Upon my confirmation as EPA administrator, I had to choose between defending the Bush-era ozone standard in court or agreeing to reconsider the 2008 designation,” wrote Lisa P. Jackson, who was appointed by the Obama administration to run the EPA. “I decided that reconsideration was the appropriate path.”
The business leaders want the EPA to the stick to the traditional five-year review cycle. The next formal review is scheduled for 2013, but environmentalists say the move can’t wait two more years.
“The new EPA is just cleaning up the mess that it inherited,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. The old one was sending a “false signal from the government about what constitutes dirty air.”
He said the health effects are reason enough to make the switch. When the level is too high, like it is now, it increases the level of smog in the environment, he said, and that has a negative affect on children and senior citizens. If it’s not fixed, “literally thousands of people would die prematurely each year,” he said.
But business groups say the EPA at that time was simply trying to find a balance when they set the limit at 75 ppb, because it previously was set at 84 ppb.
Now, Mr. Eisenberg said, he is hearing the standard will be set around 65 ppb. “Anything in that range would be too low,” he said. It would even force respected national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon out of compliance.
Communities that fail to drop within the limit will be hit with fines and forced to place restrictions on businesses. One of the biggest restrictions will be a rule that they have to tear down one or more buildings before they can build a new one.
“So you wind up scaling down,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “You’re having less business at that point. You’re taking more away than you’re adding.”
Other penalties include the federal government withholding highway and transit funding, and greater oversight when it comes to permit decisions.
So, naturally, companies will begin to locate in attainment areas that do not face these same restrictions. But, with the new standards, those areas are shrinking. Eventually, this could force businesses out of the country.
“Anytime they lower the standard, it’s going to put some counties in non-attainment,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “But lowering it this much would put large portions of the nation into non-attainment. That’s really when the pain starts.”
“Then, the option doesn’t just become, ‘I’m going to move somewhere else in the state.’ It becomes, ‘I’m going to move out of the country.’ And that will cause major economic destruction,” he added.