Panel adds ozone amendment to rider-laden spending bill

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment this afternoon that would bar U.S. EPA from promulgating a new, more stringent ozone rule until an overwhelming majority of counties currently in nonattainment comply with an existing one.

The amendment by Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) would bar the agency from finalizing and implementing the ozone rule it proposed last November until 85 percent of counties in nonattainment areas comply with a 2008 rule. It was added to a fiscal 2016 EPA and Interior Department spending bill before the committee on a 31-20 vote, with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) crossing the aisle to support it.

Jenkins said he was concerned that counties that are out of attainment for ozone will be denied Highway Trust Fund revenue and industrial permits — even if their status is partly due to natural ozone levels.

He noted that almost every state has some area that is out of attainment with the George W. Bush-era standard and accused EPA of “moving the goal post” on ozone.

But Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) noted that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to consider revising its standard every five years. Ozone is linked to asthma and other respiratory ills, she said, especially in children and other vulnerable populations.

McCollum accused Republicans of being “reckless and out of touch with what American people want — they want clean air.”

EPA has proposed tightening the national ambient air quality standard for ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb based on a public health science review, and EPA is expected to meet an Oct. 1 deadline to finalize it.

Jenkins’ proposal tracks with a bill introduced last year by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) (Greenwire, March 17). Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a similar bill in March in the upper chamber.

Also this afternoon, House appropriators dismissed largely along party lines two Democratic amendments that would have struck from the bill policy riders prohibiting EPA from moving ahead with its newly final Waters of the U.S. rule and its greenhouse gas rules. Cuellar and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) voted against the measures, which both fell on 19-32 votes.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee and the sponsor of the greenhouse gas rider, blasted Republicans for “denying” man-made climate change.

“We can no longer let ourselves be the hapless victims of climate change and those who choose to deny its existence,” she said.

But panel Republicans said the rules would damage the economy, particularly in coal-dependent regions like the district Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) represents.

“EPA has been dismantling the coal industry piece by piece with its regulatory agenda for years,” said Rogers. EPA’s collective regulations for coal emissions and residue have “made it nearly impossible to do business,” he said.

The panel approved the underlying spending bill on a 30-21 party line vote. It is unclear when it will come to the House floor, but it faces a tough road to enactment.