Obama Imposes Costly Ozone Rule

Published October 6, 2015

The Obama administration imposed a new 70 parts per billion (ppb) ozone limit on October 1st. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, states and counties will have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. 

President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush last made the ozone standard more stringent in 2008, his last year in office. Even before many states have begun implementing recently approved plans to meet the previous standard, the EPA made the standard even stricter, throwing more counties and cities out of compliance with federal ozone standards and necessitating a new rounds of hearings, the formulation of new state plans to meet the new standards, and likely lawsuits. 

The EPA estimates the new rule will be among the most expensive in history, topping $1.4 billion per year. Research examining previous federal estimates of the costs of regulations show agencies, including EPA, consistently miscalculate the costs of the regulations they impose on the economy. Government cost estimates are routinely far lower than actual costs, so the cost of the new ozone rule could be much higher. 

Science Disputed

In a surprise move to some, EPA ultimately chose to impose the weakest standard within the range of 60 to 70 ppb recommended by its scientific panel. In President Obama’s first term, then EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, recommended a stricter 65 parts per billion standard, and almost resigned when the President delayed implementing her recommendation.

In defending her decision to set the minimal standard in the range recommended by the E.P.A.’s scientists, current E.P.A. administrator, Gina McCarthy, said, contrary to environmental lobbyists claims, economic and political concerns had no impact on her decision. “Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy argued Jackson did not have much of the data available to her when she fought for the stricter standard that McCarthy now has. “We have 1,000 more studies that were not available to her,” said McCarthy. “Some of those studies gave us a lot more information. And we 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.”

New Standard, Unnecessary, Costly

In contrast to McCarthy’s assertion the new rule was necessary to protect public health, approximately 260 organizations — businesses, trade associations, unions, consumer and public interest groups — asked the administration keep the existing standard, saying research showed the existing 75 ppb standard already protects public health.

 “[T]he Obama administration finalized a rule that is overly burdensome, costly and misguided,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers 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 hurt workers. “But make no mistake: the new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers,” Timmons stated. “Now it’s time for Congress to step up and take a stand for working families.”

 Whether Congress takes up Timmons’ challenge and tries to reject or undermine the new rules through legislation or the budget process remains to be seen, but it is already clear, based on statements issues by Congressional leaders upon the administration announcing the stricter ozone standards, they share Timmons’ concern it will cost jobs. “Nationwide, it could lead to massive job loss and cost tens of billions annually in lost economic growth,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY. “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.”