Battle Over Smog Rules Ramps Up

by | Mar 15, 2008

smog_in_new_york.jpgThe chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), plans to hold a hearing on allegations that the White House intervened to water down new smog rules issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency which are weaker than those recommended by the agency’s science advisors, The Walls Street journal reports.

The backlash is similar to that seen after the EPA denied California the right to set its own tougher-than-federal vehicle emission standards.

Business groups had lobbied against tightening the ozone standards. The EPA has acknowledged that tighter standards could force companies to spend billions of dollars reducing factory emissions.

The Washington Post reported that White House officials chafed at the idea that they could not factor costs and feasibility of controlling pollution when making decisions about air quality and that the president himself intervened.

Considering the costs of tightening the ozone regulations into consideration when drafting new limits is forbidden by the Clean Air Act, Time Magazine reports. In issuing the new rule, the EPA’s Johnson called on Congress to rewrite the law to allow regulators to consider costs.

The EPA denies any intervention by the White House and says the rules are suitably tough. “Bottom line – America’s air is cleaner today than it was a generation ago and the rule EPA signed this week is the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone,” EPA Press Secretary, Jonathan Shradar, said in a statement commenting on the WaPo story.

epa_new_ozone_rule.jpgThe new primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 parts per million (ppm) and the new secondary standard is set at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm. Because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became 0.084 ppm: areas with ozone levels as high as 0.084 ppm were considered as meeting the 0.08 ppm standard, because of rounding.

The EPA’s scientific advisers suggested limiting ozone in the air to an average of between 60 and 70 parts per billion, Time Magazine reports.

“EPA’s new standard is like lowering the speed limit in a neighborhood from 85 miles per hour to 75,” John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program, said in a statement. “Sure, it’s better, but it still won’t get the job done in keeping folks safe. Most of all, we’re disappointed that EPA disregarded the unanimous urgings of its expert science advisors, and instead adopted a standard that science shows will not protect against asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and other lung diseases linked to ozone pollution.”

Still some industry groups feel the rule went too far.

“EPA made the wrong call in changing the ozone standard,” said John Kinsman, senior director, environment, at the Edison Electric Institute, the association of investor-owned electric companies, representing about 70 percent of the U.S. electric power sector, in a statement. “The agency’s rationale for tightening the standard significantly skews the scientific record on ozone’s health effects….Hundreds of counties haven’t been able to meet the current standard set a decade ago, and moving the goal posts again will inflict economic hardship on these areas without speeding air quality improvement.”

“The costs are too high and the benefits too unclear to impose this new burden on America’s manufacturers and employees,” National Association of Manufacturers’ president John Engler said in a statement. “Anyone interested in preserving high-paying U.S. jobs in manufacturing and keeping a lid on energy prices should be disappointed by today’s ruling. Considering America’s current domestic economic challenges, this is the wrong move at the wrong time.”

Places that violate the current standards include Southern and Central California, the Houston, Dallas and Atlanta areas, and a swath of counties from the Washington, D.C., area through central Massachusetts, according to The New York Times. In all, 345 counties now violate the standard of 75 parts per billion. Reaching the standard will cost $8.8 billion a year. Counties that cannot meet the standard face the threat of limits on new highways and industries.

In a separate EPA rule that has been overshadowed by the controversy over the new Ozone rules, new emissions standards will slash pollution from locomotive and marine diesel engines by up to 90 percent.

When fully implemented, these new standards will reduce soot or particulate matter (PM) by 90 percent or 27,000 tons and reduce nitrogen oxides emissions (NOx) by 80 percent or nearly 800,000 tons. The rule cuts emissions from all types of diesel locomotives, including line-haul, switch, and passenger rail, as well as from a wide range of marine sources, including ferries, tugboats, Great Lake freighters and all types of marine auxiliary engines.

For the first time ever, this rule requires remanufacturing standards for marine engines, reductions in engine idling, and the use of after treatment technology that will further reduce diesel emissions. Phasing in tighter long-term standards for PM and NOx will begin in 2014 for marine diesel engines and in 2015 for locomotive engines. Advanced after-treatment technology will apply to both types of engines.

This rule is receiving applause from environmental and industry groups.

“EPA has delivered a strong program that will go a long way towards solving the problem of diesel train and ship pollution in the future,” Richard Kassel, director of NRDC’s Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project and a member of EPA’s Clean Air Act Advisory Committee,” said in a statement.

“With the implementation of this rule, clean diesel is no longer an oxymoron, but a proven, efficient, cost-effective and clean technology that powers our nation’s economy,” Geoff Conrad, Cummins General Manager – Marine, said. “This rule establishes difficult stretch goals for the industry, but we are prepared to meet the challenge.”

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