Obama to Enviros on Ozone: I'll Be Back


The Wall Street Journal just alerted:

President Barack Obama, citing the nation's struggling economy, asked the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw an air quality rule that Republicans and business groups have said could cost tens of billions of dollars a year or more and kill thousands of jobs.

The surprise move came as the economic recovery continued to show signs of stalling, with the labor market failing to add new jobs in August for the first time since September 2010…

The rule, which would have tightened standards for smog-forming ozone, has been under attack for months from industry groups and lawmakers. Republicans have cited the rule as a prime example of the regulatory overreach that they say is hampering the economic recovery…

No kidding!

Here's some background. In 2008, as part of the regular five-year review of the Clean Air Act, the Bush administration revised the ozone standard to 0.075 parts per million (ppm) down from 0.080 ppm that the Clinton EPA had set. Industry and communities thought this was too stringent—but not for the Obama EPA. It took the unprecedented step of ordering a review of the revised standards in 2009—one year after the new standards were passed and four years ahead of the normal review. And what did its reviewers recommend? Further tightening the Bush rule to between 0.060 and 0.070 ppm.

According to the EPA's own admission, the new ozone standard would impose up to $90 billion in compliance costs. Andrew M. Grossman of Heritage Foundation notes that these might have been the most expensive standards yet in the nation's history. That's because the technology needed to comply with them simply doesn't exist and would force up to 451 counties into non-attainment. He notes:

The economic consequences of non-attainment are severe. New and modified sources—factories, power plants, and the like—in non-attainment areas must employ costly emissions control technologies and offset emissions by taking other industrial capacity offline, directly costing jobs. At best, this drives up the cost of development and discourages businesses from expanding. At worst, it is a near prohibition on new industry. And where businesses are unable to relocate—such as is often the case with utilities—the result is higher costs for consumers.

Finally, the primary standards may be impossible to attain. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) explained that "as levels for ozone standards move closer to 'background' levels, new issues may arise with implementation." In many areas, background levels of ozone approach or exceed the proposed standard, placing those areas in permanent non-attainment, with all the economic consequences. This problem will only get worse: Mexican and Canadian emissions already have a large and growing impact on bordering states' ozone levels, and a recent study concluded that rising Asian emissions "may hinder the USA's compliance with its ozone air quality standard.

In other words, U.S. industry and communities might have been on the hook for cleaning up pollution that they had not even created. But that's not what caused the White House to pull the plug. Apparently, according to the WSJ, the White House judged that it had more to lose from industry and Republican criticism than it had to gain from environmental groups and others who support the rule. But it is hinting to its enviro pals that it will revisit the issue in 2013 when the Clean Air Act is up for review again.

And Obama is safely back in office. (Wink, wink.)