The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held hearings on its new proposed ozone standards. The existing standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) for ground-level ozone, a primary component of smog, was set in 2008.
Every five years, the EPA is required by law to review and, if appropriate, revise these standards. The EPA is proposing to make the standards much stricter, anywhere from 65–70 ppb, although it is considering a 60 ppb standard as well. If the agency goes with the strictest standard of 60 ppb, it could be the costliest regulation in U.S. history.
The following is a statement I made at the EPA hearing in Washington, D.C. (The PDF below contains my statement with explanatory footnotes):
My name is Daren Bakst and I am Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this statement are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak at today’s hearing, and look forward to submitting written comments for the docket.
Making the Standards More Stringent Is Premature
States are just now starting to meet the current 75 parts per billion standard. According to the Congressional Research Service, 123 million people live in areas that have not attained the current standards. In fact, 105 million people live in areas that are still considered nonattainment for the less stringent 1997 ozone standard.
When nearly 40 percent of the nation’s population lives in areas that have not met the current standard, it is premature to adopt an even more stringent standard.
Costs Exceed Benefits
The EPA claims that the benefits of a new 70 parts per billion or 65 parts per billion standard outweigh the costs. However, this is misleading. When focusing on ozone only benefits, the costs far exceed the benefits for each of the more stringent standards.
Based on EPA’s own data, and taking the most generous estimate of ozone benefits, the costs exceed the benefits, ranging anywhere from half a billion dollars for a 70 parts per billion standard to $19 billion for a 60 parts per billion standard.
The benefits only outweigh costs if taking into account PM2.5 co-benefits. PM2.5 co-benefits, assuming the highest levels of benefits, account for anywhere between 70–75% of the total benefits, depending on the standard. In other words, for the proposed ozone standard, ozone benefits are only about a quarter of the benefits.
While the EPA has constantly used PM2.5 co-benefits to improperly justify a seemingly endless amount of regulations that have nothing to do with the reason for the regulations, using PM2.5 co-benefits to make the case for an ozone standard is particularly egregious.
The EPA has a very clear and direct means to address PM2.5 through the National Ambient Air Quality Standards process, and that, not surprisingly, is through the PM2.5 standard. The ozone standard is a distinct standard that is supposed to be focused on ozone.
To sell a more stringent ozone standard, the EPA lists a series of alleged facts in its “By the Numbers” document that will scare the public into thinking a more stringent standard is necessary. For example, according to the EPA, setting the ozone standard to 70 parts per billion or 65 parts per billions would avoid:
• 65,000–180,000 missed work days; and
• 790 to 2,300 cases of acute bronchitis among children
Here is the catch. Both of these alleged facts are based on reductions in PM2.5 alone, and not ozone. The other facts listed in the document, except for one, take into account reductions in both PM2.5 and ozone.
The public is being led to believe that reducing ozone achieves these health benefits. In reality, much of these alleged benefits have nothing to do with an actual reduction in ozone.
These numbers, assuming the facts listed are reasonable estimates, should also be put in perspective. For example, the EPA claims making the standard more stringent would avoid 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits. Given that there are about 1.8 million such visits in a year, the reduction amounts to eight-hundredths of one percent to two-tenths of one percent, a minuscule impact at best. Further, these numbers are based on both reductions in PM2.5 and ozone, not on ozone alone.
I urge the EPA to maintain the current 75 parts per billion standard. A more stringent standard is both premature and unjustified. As the EPA does move forward, the agency should be very transparent regarding the ozone benefits and costs, and not sell a stricter ozone standard on PM2.5 co-benefits.