EPA Eases Smog Rules for Parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana

Published June 27, 2018

Continuing the Trump administration’s policy of rolling back Obama-era regulatory initiatives, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has loosened smog regulations for parts of three states in the Midwest.

Pruitt’s May 2 decision reduces the extent of areas in southeastern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and northwestern Indiana required to meet stricter federal smog (ground-level ozone) standards imposed by the Obama administration. In 2015, EPA tightened the federal smog standard to 70 parts per million (ppm), replacing the 75 ppm limit established during the Bush administration.

In its 2018 review, EPA identified 51 areas in 22 states across the nation that failed to meet the 2015 federal ozone standard in 2017.

Answering Governors’ Pleas

Republican governors Scott Walker (WI), Bruce Rauner (IL), and Eric Holcomb (IN) had requested exemptions for regions in which they say the ozone levels are caused by pollution from out of state over which they have no control.

“We are working with the EPA to implement a plan that continues to look out for the best interest of Wisconsin,” Walker said in a Twitter post about Pruitt’s decision. “We continue to search for ways to balance environmental stewardship and a positive, pro-jobs business environment.”

In addition to exempting Wisconsin’s Racine County from the smog rule, EPA determined McHenry County, Illinois and Indiana’s Porter County and parts of Lake County do not have to comply with the stricter 2015 standard.

Frees Up Foxconn

The decision is expected to have a positive effect on plans of Foxconn Technology Group, the giant, Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, to construct a 20-million-square-foot plant in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. Foxconn’s $10 billion facility, which will manufacture liquid crystal display panels, is expected to create as many as 13,000 jobs in an area still reeling from the 2008 closure of a GM assembly plant in nearby Janesville.

Walker spearheaded the effort to lure Foxconn to southeastern Wisconsin. The region and Foxxconn will have to comply with other existing federal and state air quality standards, but EPA’s decision to ease the region’s smog standard means Foxconn will not have to install additional, expensive emissions-control equipment, limit production at the facility, or enter into emissions-trading agreements with other companies in the area in order for the region to meet the smog standard.

Breath of Fresh Air?

It is good to have a presidential administration taking the harm federal regulations can impose on local economies seriously, says Tim Benson, a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“It certainly is nice for a change to have an EPA that actually considers the effects on local economies and families of its rulings and decrees,” Benson said. “By backing away from a one-size-fits-all standard, EPA will help enable certain parts of the country to balance the desire for a healthy environment with the needs of a healthy economy.”

‘No Fault of Their Own’

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says Obama’s tightening of the smog standard in 2015 threw many communities out of compliance with clean air standards through no fault of their own.

“By tightening EPA’s ozone standard to 70 ppm, the Obama administration knew it would throw hundreds of counties throughout the country out of compliance with the Clean Air Act, forcing them to clamp down on economic activity ranging from manufacturing and construction to agriculture,” Rucker said. “Because ozone can be transported by prevailing winds, many communities are penalized for pollution originating elsewhere.”

Chuck Daniel, president of the Caesar Rodney Institute, says the tightened smog restrictions were unnecessary to protect the environment and he hopes the measures Pruitt has taken in the Midwest will be applied to other parts of the country as well.

“The Bush administration had already tightened ozone rules, and local governments were taking steps to meet the 75 ppm standard,” said Daniel. “There was no compelling environmental reason for the Obama administration to impose additional burdens on communities already struggling to revitalize their economies, including those in our hard-pressed Mid-Atlantic region.

“I hope we can see similar exemptions here and elsewhere,” Daniel said.

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