The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) expected ozone standard, expected to come in December, could be the most expensive regulation in U.S. history, according to a new study by NERA Economic Consulting for the National Association of Manufacturers.

The EPA sets standards for six major pollutants including ground-level ozone, a primary component of smog. Every five years, the EPA is required by law to review and, if appropriate, revise these standards. In 2008, the EPA issued an ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb).

Before five years had even elapsed, the EPA was at work again to make the standards more stringent. The EPA was about to issue new standards that might have been set as low as 60 ppb. By the EPA’s own count, a 60-ppb standard would have cost as much as $90 billion per year. In 2011, President Obama directed the agency to withdraw the proposed rule, citing the impact it would have on the recovering economy.

The EPA’s own estimates of $90 billion a year are shocking, but the costs of such a stringent and unwarranted standard could be even worse. The NERA study found that a 60-ppb standard would:

  • Reduce gross domestic product by $270 billion per year on average over the period from 2017 through 2040,
  • Result in an average annual loss of 2.9 million job-equivalents (a measurement of lost jobs, fewer hours, and lower wages) through 2040,
  • Impose $2.2 trillion in compliance costs from 2017 through 2040, and
  • Decrease average household income by $1,570 per year.

These new standards would impact millions of Americans. Based on EPA data from 2010 to 2012, 31 percent of the 698 counties with ozone monitors would fail to meet the current 75-ppb ozone standard. If the standard were lowered to 60 ppb, 93 percent would fail to meet this standard.

Beyond the costs, changing the standard again is premature. The existing standards have not even been fully implemented, yet the EPA would be proposing new standards that are more stringent. An ozone standard of 60 ppb may be an impossible standard to meet in at least some areas of the country. For example, Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality director Amanda Smith testified in Congress last year that a monitor in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park area regularly records ozone levels of 70 ppb despite the surrounding county being very rural. A 2011 Harvard study found that background levels in the intermountain west regularly exceed 60 ppb.

Further, concentration levels of ozone have decreased by 25 percent since 1980, and the average number of high ozone days per monitor in a year has decreased by 75 percent in 2012. Even Los Angeles County—one of the consistently worst violators of the ozone standard—has decreased the average number of high ozone days from 85 days in 1980 down to 13 days in 2012. (Figures are from the EPA’s database.)

The EPA is chasing marginal benefits in air quality at great cost to the American people. Congress, not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA, should determine whether a new standard is warranted. Congress should not fund the implementation of any new ozone standard and should review the air quality process to protect the health and well-being of Americans.