Observers react to EPA’s proposed NAAQS standard for ozone

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Nov. 26 that it was proposing to strengthen rules for  ground-level ozone, or smog,

EPA is proposing to strengthen air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update. Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb — the level of the current standard — can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes.

Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by Oct. 1, 2015.

Segal reacts to propose NAAQS rule for ozone

Bracewell Giuliani Partner Scott Segal make the following observations on the proposed rule from EPA:

** The low end of the range in the proposed rule (65ppb) is “still very troubling” – as low as background levels of ozone in many parts of the country and pushing as much as 94% of the nation out of attainment.

** “The Administration only has so much political capital at its disposal. It has made clear that controlling greenhouse gases is its legacy issue, Segal said.  It is unclear that the administration has the bandwidth to sustain both rules. There is no doubt that many in Congress and the states will demand that the proposed ozone NAAQS be placed “on a more realistic course.”

** “EPA admits that the proposed ozone rule is one of the costliest rules it has ever devised,” Segal said. There is no economic analysis that shows what the total cost for the economy will be if the Administration gets its way on both carbon and ozone.

** EPA’s description of the benefits of the proposed ozone standard is “sketchy at best,” Segal said. “EPA has to admit that there is little real benefit to actual ozone reductions at the levels proposed.  Instead they rely on so-called co-benefits from reducing particulate matter, or PM.”

“Of course, EPA already has programs in place directly targeted at PM which the Agency claims are effective at reducing that pollutant to a level fully protective of human health,” Segal said. “In other words, EPA is again double counting benefits to plus up the case for a controversial proposal.  And even at that, the rule may still spend as much as $17 million for each hypothetical life saved, a number completely out of whack with other public health expenditures. Just by way of comparison, a life-saving pneumonia vaccine is $5 per dose,” Segal said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.