New GOP bill would roll back ozone standard

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 2, 2016

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and five other Republicans introduced legislation yesterday to roll back implementation of U.S. EPA’s new ozone standard and overhaul the broader system for updating air quality benchmarks.

The bill, S. 2882, is a companion to Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson’s H.R. 4775 introduced in response to arguments from businesses and elected officials that the new 70-parts-per-billion ozone standard is impossible to meet in some areas.

In the face of a “never-ending stream” of Obama administration mandates, “this bill will provide more certainty to states, cut down compliance costs and help save much-needed jobs,” Capito said in a statement.

The measure, whose House version has already drawn stiff opposition from acting EPA air chief Janet McCabe and congressional Democrats, would delay nonatttainment designations under the new standard from next year until 2025 (Greenwire, April 14).

It would also stretch out the mandatory review timetable of standards for ozone and five other major air pollutants from once every five years to once every decade and require EPA to study the impact of emissions originating from overseas.

Ground-level ozone, the chief ingredient in smog, stems from the reaction of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in sunlight. Besides irritating lung passageways, it can help trigger asthma attacks and worsen emphysema symptoms.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy lowered the ambient air quality threshold from 75 ppb to 70 ppb in October 2015, citing the need to protect public health.

The new rule is now the subject of competing lawsuits by business groups that argue EPA should have left the standard alone and environmental and public health organizations that say the scientific evidence warrants lowering it to 60 ppb.

Parties filed the first round of briefs in the case last week (Greenwire, April 25). Two of the groups in the business camp yesterday applauded introduction of the Senate bill.

Like its House counterpart, the Senate measure offers “a balanced approach that ensures continued air quality improvements, while giving states and manufacturers the flexibility necessary to limit some of the economic growth restrictions that exist under the current regulation,” Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, wrote in a blog post.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council singled out a provision that would leave the previous permitting requirements in effect until EPA decides on nonattainment areas under the new standard.

“These and other reforms will provide greater regulatory certainty for state air-quality agencies and businesses alike,” the chemical industry trade group said in the statement.

The measure’s initial co-sponsors are Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, John Cornyn of Texas, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and David Vitter of Louisiana. The bill has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Inhofe chairs. As of late yesterday, the committee had not formally scheduled any action on the legislation.