‘Legal constraints’ forcing EPA’s hand on ozone — Obama

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 21, 2015

President Obama told a business group this week that critics of his environmental policies can swing away at the Clean Power Plan, but the expected tightening of the ozone pollution standard is another matter.

Addressing a meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Obama was asked about a tougher ozone limit hurting small businesses.

“I think there may be a misperception that the EPA can do whatever it wants here,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript.

“I guess the bottom line is this: You can legitimately go after me on the clean power plant rule because … that was hatched by us, and I believe we need to deal with climate change, so we can have a lengthy debate about that,” he said. “And on ozone, this is an existing statute and an existing mechanism, and we are charged with implementing it based on the science that’s presented to us.”

U.S. EPA has proposed tightening the Clean Air Act ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb by 2025. The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the final rule, which by court order is due out by the end of this month.

The EPA proposal has been the target of intense lobbying by business groups arguing it would damage the economy. Environmental groups have countered, stressing the importance of ozone curbs for public health (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

Obama stressed that air regulations didn’t begin with his administration. EPA, he said, is bound by “legal constraints.”

“This is not something that just popped out of my head full blown,” he said. “And so I always enjoy seeing the advertising for ‘Obama’s ozone plan.’ The ozone rules date back to when I was, I think, still in law school, before I had any gray hair. And there are some fairly stringent statutory guidelines by which the EPA is supposed to evaluate the standards.”

The president acknowledged that air quality in some areas can be degraded by pollution blown in from afar (Greenwire, Sept. 10).

Those communities, he said, may face more challenges complying with stricter ozone levels. He said EPA is working with specific states and communities on those concerns.

He also said he understood industry’s concerns about local costs that could be incurred complying with a tighter standard, saying “those are legitimate economic issues that have to be considered.”

But Obama emphasized that the benefits of a tougher ozone standard will outweigh the costs in EPA’s ultimate decision.

“Even with the costs associated with implementing the ozone rule, when you do a cost-benefit, the amount of lives saved, asthma averted and so forth is still substantially higher than the costs,” he said. “I think what you’ll see in the analysis overall is — we don’t issue a regulation where the costs are not lower than the benefits.”