In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new standard for ground level ozone concentrations of 75 parts per billion. Now, as most states have attained, or are nearing attainment of the standard, the agency has released a new standard: 65 parts per billion.
On Sept. 2 a business advocates meeting in Pittsburgh said that 5-parts-per-billion difference would translate into trillions of dollars lost in gross domestic production, primarily due to increased compliance costs and higher energy cost. It would also mean massive job losses.
“And Pittsburgh is right in the crosshairs,” said Keynote speaker and National Black Chamber of Commerce President Harry Alford.
“We’re talking about one of the most expensive, damaging, and unnecessary regulatory proposals in recent memory. And what do we get for this new standard, when Black unemployment is at an all-time high? In the Keystone state alone, we lose 100,000 jobs, $98 billion lost in gross state production, and $10 billion lost in compliance costs.”
Alford, joined by members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the American Petroleum Institute—and hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania—called for the EPA to halt implementation of the new standard, at least until states and counties had met the current standard.
The reason the EPA regulates ground-level ozone is that at higher levels, it can exacerbate breathing problems for some. But as William Kovacks of the U.S. Chamber noted during his PowerPoint presentation, nationally the 75 ppb standard is nearly met.
“Since 1980, ozone-forming emissions have been cut 50 percent and ozone concentrations are down 33 percent,” he said. “And they will go down another 36 percent, as is. We are quickly approaching ‘background levels.’”
Certain areas, like Las Vegas, Nev., have so much naturally occurring ozone that they are “out of attainment” already. And as Gene Barr, business and industry chamber president noted, “They call them the Smokey Mountains for a reason.”
In Pennsylvania, currently only a few counties in and around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are out of attainment with respect to the 75 ppb standard, but they are close enough that the more onerous effects of EPA regulation have not been applied. Under the proposed 65 ppb standard, only five counties would be in attainment.
In all the others, economic activity and development would grind to a halt as manufacturing firms, concrete plants, energy and steel companies spend their capital trying to meet the standard.
Robert Agbede, chairman of Chester Group, which specializes in environmental engineering, said under the new standard all the development going on in Pittsburgh now could not be done.
“For every new business, plant, hotel that goes up, one would have to come down,” he said.
“And no new business would locate here because the first thing they ask about is its EPA attainment. So forget that ethane cracker plant and all the plastic manufacturing industry that would grow around it.”
In summary, Alford pointed out that The EPA has admitted the technology required to meet the new standard has not been invented.
“That’s right. It does not exist,” he said.
He also added that the $1,400 average annual increase in family energy costs would disproportionately hurt African Americans.
“We all know job losses and higher energy prices—both inevitable consequences of the proposed tightening of the ozone standard—tend to disproportionately impact minorities,” he said. “Minorities typically spend more of their disposable income on utility bills, so the combination of higher energy prices and higher unemployment can be particularly devastating.”
The EPA is scheduled to finalize its new standard by the end of October.
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