WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2015 – Most of the criticism of the Obama administration’s environmental agenda has been focused on its effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants and its proposed Clean Water Act rule, but a proposal to tighten limits for ozone is also stirring some concern in the agriculture and energy sectors.

The ozone proposal, released shortly before Thanksgiving, would lower the limit on the pollutant from the current level, set in 2008, of 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 parts per billion. The agency also sought comment on setting the standard as low as 60 parts per billion. EPA is under court order to finalize a new ozone rule by Oct. 1.

Ozone is a key component of smog, and the EPA says the proposal will protect children and the elderly in particular from asthma and other lung diseases while also being healthier for plants and trees. According to the agency, the “vast majority” of counties would meet the lower standard by 2025 under regulations that are already in place and under way, including EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations for power plants.

Lowering the limit would not by itself trigger any restrictions on agriculture. The concern is that it could lead to new regulations on agricultural engine emissions or practices such as burning fields, depending on how states decided to get into compliance with a tighter standard, says Andrew Walmsley of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Many rural counties have ozone levels that would exceed the range EPA is considering setting as a new limit, he said. “You’re going to be bringing in a lot more rural counties than you have in the past,” he said.

Cynthia Cory, director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation, says “it goes without saying there would be further controls” on ozone in California since some areas already are in excess of the current limits. “Lowering the standard will only put pressure on the air districts to ratchet down further,” she said. Regulations already under development for eight counties in the San Joaquin Valley would require replacement of off-road diesel equipment, she added.

But Samantha Adhoot, a Virginia doctor representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the EPA at one of a series of recent public hearings that a tighter ozone standard was “critical and overdue” and should be set at 60 parts per billion.

“The solution to air pollution is not to keep our children indoors. The solution is to clean the air,” she told agency officials.

A limit of 70 parts per billion could yield health benefits – prevented deaths and illnesses – valued at a minimum of $6.4 billion a year by 2025, against costs of $3.9 billion, EPA says. Those estimates don’t include California, which would have more time to meet a lower standard. At 65 parts per billion, the benefits could reach $38 billion a year in 2025, against an estimated cost of $15 billion, not counting California.

But the oil industry and other business interests have been making dire predictions about the impact of the proposed rule.

Howard Feldman, the American Petroleum Institute’s regulatory and scientific affairs director, told the same EPA officials that lowering the limit to the range the agency was considering would have a “catastrophic effect on businesses and families” and “could cause our economy to nose dive.”


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