Obama Imposes Costly New Ozone Rule

Published November 11, 2015

The Obama administration imposed a new 70 parts per billion (ppb) ozone limit on October 1.

Depending on the amount of reduction required, states and counties will have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards.

President Barack Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, last made the ozone standard more stringent in 2008, setting it at 75 ppb. With many states having yet to begin implementing recently approved state plans to meet the Bush-era standards, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is making the standard even stricter, which will likely throw more counties and cities out of compliance with federal ozone standards and necessitate new rounds of hearings, the formulation of revised state plans to meet the new standards, and lawsuits.

EPA estimates the new rule will be among the most expensive in history, costing more than $1.4 billion per year. Research examining previous federal estimates of the regulations’ costs show agencies, including EPA, consistently underestimate the costs of the regulations they impose on the economy, so the cost of the new ozone rule could be much higher.

Could Have Been Stricter

EPA ultimately chose to impose the least-stringent standard within the range of 60–70 ppb recommended by its scientific panel. In defense of her decision, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said economic and political concerns had no impact on her decision, contrary to environmental lobbyists’ claims.

“Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people,” McCarthy said. “[W]e decided 70 was the standard based on the science that was available. To me, this is a significant step forward, and it’s one that’s not based on anything except science and the law.”

Retired physician, engineer, and public health service employee Charles Battig disagrees with EPA’s claim the new standards will prevent premature deaths and asthma attacks.

“Multiple studies of hospital admissions in California, the state facing the worst ozone levels, have produced no valid evidence linking ozone levels to deaths or hospital admissions,” Battig said.

“Indeed, while ozone has declined 33 percent since 1980, and overall air pollution has declined by 63 percent, asthma rates have more than doubled in in the [United States], and emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma are lowest during July and August, when ozone levels are highest,” Battig said. “Confounding factors other than ozone are impacting asthma incidence.” 

‘Overly Burdensome, Costly, Misguided’

Approximately 260 organizations, businesses, trade associations, unions, and consumer and public interest groups filed comments or issued statements saying research shows the existing 75 ppb standard already protects public health. The organizations also asked Obama to keep the existing standard in place.

“[T]he Obama administration finalized a rule that is overly burdensome, costly, and misguided,” said National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons in a statement. “For months, the administration threatened to impose on manufacturers an even harsher rule, with even more devastating consequences. After an unprecedented level of outreach by manufacturers and other stakeholders, the worst-case scenario was avoided.”

According to Timmons, even the less-stringent standard will reduce employment.

“[M]ake no mistake: the new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers,” Timmons said. “Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.” 

Expanding Federal Control

“Despite the fact that ozone and air pollution levels are falling around the country, the Obama administration continues to ratchet down its regulations in an effort to exercise federal control over a larger and larger amount of America,” said Daniel Simmons, vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “Hopefully, Congress will push back on this new attempt by the federal government to exert more and more control over local land use and decision-making.”

Some congressional leaders seem to share the concerns about the new standard held by Timmons and Simmons.

“Nationwide, it could lead to massive job loss and cost tens of billions annually in lost economic growth,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. “No wonder we’ve seen even the Obama administration’s traditional union allies fret publicly about ‘the detrimental impact’ these ‘extreme requirements’ would have on American jobs and the American economy.” 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.