Already Reeling, Counties Struggle with New Ozone Restrictions

Published February 19, 2010

Continuing the Obama administration’s crackdown on emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to tighten standards for ground-level ozone. The move will impose expensive new restrictions on counties throughout the nation, with more than 300 still struggling to meet restrictions imposed by former President Bush in 2008.

2008 Standard Challenging Counties
EPA has proposed tightening the “primary”—or public-health—standard for smog to between 0.060 parts per million (ppm) and 0.070 ppm measured over eight hours. Many counties are still struggling to meet the 0.075 ceiling set by the Bush administration in 2008.

The agency is also putting forward a first-ever “secondary” ozone standard designed to protect trees and plants. This secondary standard would be between 7 and 15 parts per million, based on a cumulative, weighted total of daily 12-hour exposure to ozone by plants and crops over a three-month period. 

EPA estimates the new rules will have a price tag of between $19 billion and $90 billion. Coal-fired power plants, for example, will be forced to install scrubbers to reduce emissions, and those costs will be passed on to consumers.

Highway Funds Threatened
Currently, 322 counties across the nation have yet to meet the 0.075 ppm ceiling imposed two years ago. Twice as many counties would be out of compliance with the 0.060 ppm ceiling.

The areas most heavily affected by the new standards would include large swaths of California and Arizona, much of the Eastern Seaboard, and the Midwest. 

Under the proposal, affected jurisdictions would have until late 2013 to submit plans to EPA outlining how they intend to come into compliance with the new standards. Failure to meet the standards in a timely manner could lead to a loss of federal funds for road and highway construction.

A constant complaint by local officials and businesses leaders over the years has been that just as they are on the verge of complying with EPA’s latest standard, the agency tightens the screws again, forcing them to scramble to meet the new standard.

Hardships Reduce Lifespans
John Dunn, M.D., an emergency services consultant at Fort Hood, Texas and a science advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, said EPA’s proposed tighter standard is unnecessary. 

“EPA has not established that ozone causes death and disease,” said Dunn. “The agency seems more interested in creating jobs for environmental bureaucrats.” 

By redefining what it considers a “safe” level for ozone, Dunn says, the agency is only going to create economic hardship.

“Economic hardship is detrimental to health; it can reduce life expectancy by five years,” Dunn noted.

Dunn, who has practiced medicine for 37 years, observed EPA’s new standards are so low they are “already in the range where, in some parts of the country, natural processes involving trees and plants create ozone on their own, making stricter standards pointless.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.