Storm Brewing Over New EPA Ozone Standard

Published November 25, 2014

With Republican majorities both Houses, the incoming Congress is likely to be unreceptive to the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda and could pose resistance to the Environmental Protection Agency’s highly controversial proposal to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone.

The EPA’s new ozone standard, widely reported to be between 60-70 parts per billion (ppb), was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in mid-October, a move strongly suggesting EPA’s formal proposal is imminent.

Ground-level ozone, often referred to as smog, is not emitted directly, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, exhaust from motor vehicles, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are among the sources of NOx and VOCs.

Letter to McCarthy

The National Association of Manufacturers released an economic analysis suggesting tightening the nation’s ozone standard will cost an estimated $270 billion annually.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) to produce an evaluation of the adverse effects, including economic impact, of attaining and maintaining a tighter standard. Despite repeated requests from Congress, CASAC has not produced the evaluation.

In a July 28 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, urged EPA and CASAC to abide by the CAA.

“EPA and CASAC do not get to pick and choose which parts of the Clean Air Act they choose to follow. Their continued disregard for this critical statutory mandate highlights a systemic bias at the Agency,” wrote Vitter and Smith. “It is careless and unacceptable to move forward with this rulemaking, defying both Congressional requests and statutory language. Transparent advice on any and all adverse effects of the proposed ozone standard is essential to the credibility of a new standard and the ability of our states to develop implementation plans to carry out these regulations.”

Threat of Nonattainment

If it goes into effect, the administration’s proposed standard will push many metropolitan areas out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. States in nonattainment will be required to develop State Implementation Plans (SIPs) which spell out the steps each area will take to meet the new standard. SIPs must them be approved by EPA.

Businesses located in nonattainment areas typically have to purchase new equipment and acquire new permits. Manufacturers and other businesses that might otherwise open a facility in a nonattainment area tend to go elsewhere to avoid the added costs of complying with a SIP.

Science Questioned

“EPA’s proposed ground-level ozone standards are 60-70 parts per billion. That’s equivalent to 60 or 70 seconds in 32 years,” said Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “To suppose this additional 5-10 ppb reduction will improve human health or environmental quality is absurd. The proposed standards are below ozone levels naturally occurring in Teton County, Wyoming, the home of Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons, and next door to Yellowstone National Park” stated Driessen.

“Predictably, EPA says the lower limits will reduce smog and respiratory problems, particularly for ‘at-risk populations,'” Driessen said. “It bases this claim on a 2009 study directed by University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health Professor Michael Jerrett, who claimed to find a connection between long-term ozone exposure and death. Other researchers point out Jerrett made questionable assumptions about ozone concentrations, did not utilize clinical tests, ignored other studies that found no significant link between ground-level ozone and human health effects, and failed to gather critically important information on subjects/ smoking patterns. And when they asked to examine his data, Jerrett refused. That ought to tell us a lot,” said Driessen.

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


NERA Economic Consulting, “Assessing Economic Impacts of a Stricter National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ozone,” July 2014: “

David Vitter, Lamar Smith Letter to Gina McCarthy concerning EPA Ozone Standard Costs,” July 28, 2014: