NAM Ad: Pollution from China to Blame for High Ozone Levels in Western States

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is out with a new ad today that highlights how pollution from China is migrating to our shores and artificially boosting ground-level ozone readings in the western United States.

The ad is based on a new study released by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA which found that ozone pollution from China is a major factor in higher ozone levels in the Western states, offsetting actions by these states to reduce their emissions. As the ad states, “While Western states have cut their production of smog-causing ozone by over 20 percent, studies show that pollution from China has offset much of that progress.”

Indeed, the study found that the production of ozone-forming pollutants in the western United States had decreased by 21 percent between 2005 and 2010. However, the ozone levels in the area did not drop as expected in response. The researchers determined that a combination of naturally occurring atmospheric processes and air pollution crossing the Pacific Ocean from China were to blame. Specifically, NASA found that emissions transported from China offset 43 percent of the ozone reductions that were expected to occur in the atmosphere over the western United States. Ozone from the upper atmosphere offset the remaining 57 percent.

As EID has noted before, air pollution in Western states is more often caused by natural sources and unregulated air pollution from other countries than from local manufacturing and energy sources. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not account for this background ozone in its consideration of tightening the ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). As a result, communities across the West can get slapped with economic restrictions that primarily impact the manufacturing, energy, and construction industries.

For example, Colorado’s top air quality regulator noted in an interview that “very high background levels … make the issue particularly challenging in the West.” A California air quality official from the San Joaquin Valley warned “standards that approach background concentrations” require “technologies that in many cases are not yet commercially available or even conceived.” The official said in a letter to the EPA that the federal government is setting “mandates that are impossible to meet.”

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) recently spoke at length regarding his concerns over the EPA’s new proposed ozone standard, saying:

“This is the perfect example of applying the law and doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground. Because of the pollution that’s come in from other Western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in non-attainment [unintelligible] from the very beginning of the law. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not going to work.”

As the new ad explains, EPA’s tightened ozone rules will do nothing to decrease China’s pollution, but they could cost our states more than $1.7 trillion and over 1.4 million jobs each year. Even though states, businesses, and individuals are working to reduce ozone-forming emissions in their communities and seeing great success, they can’t stop invasive Chinese pollution from offsetting that progress.


The EPA has submitted a proposal that would reduce the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. These new standards would be so strict that most of the country would be out of compliance. Counties found to be in “nonattainment” of the standard must comply with severe permitting requirements that could limit economic growth. The EPA could also withhold federal funding for transportation projects, which would increase traffic congestion.

EID recently highlighted the questionable data that EPA used to claim the new rule would deliver significant health benefits.  In 2011, when the EPA proposed (and later withdrew) a 70 ppb standard, its median “net benefits” estimate for a 65 ppb standard was only $700 million, with a high possibility that the costs could outweigh any benefits. But in 2014, the EPA changed its mind, claiming net benefits of the same lower ozone standard are now as high as $23 billion – a 3,100 percent increase in net benefits for the exact same standard.


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