Appalachian Basin

New Report: EPA’s Plan to Move the Ozone Goalpost Threatens Pennsylvania’s Economy

The Center for Regulatory Solutions released a new report this week taking a look at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed ozone regulations and how they might impact Pennsylvania’s economy. These new standards could greatly hinder the Commonwealth’s manufacturing renaissance that has occurred over the last decade.

According to Congressman Glenn Thompson on today’s press call for the report, even Penn State University is in danger of being thrown into non-attainment, especially on home game days because of the added traffic and bodies in the community. Will Centre County and others have to put restrictions on tailgating to meet the new standards?

In all seriousness, a total of 33 countiesrepresenting 85 percent of the state’s GDP, 83 percent of the state’s workforce and 81 percent of the state’s population—are at risk for being placed in “non-attainment”. From the report,

“By tightening the federal ozone standard into the range of 65 to 70 ppb, EPA would throw the state capital, Harrisburg, and much of central Pennsylvania into violation of federal air quality laws. Manufacturing and construction make up 10% of jobs in these counties.” (Findings)

Not only will it cause economic harm, but David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, explained on the press call that new ozone regulations are actually at odds with the new EPA Clean Power Plan:

“Unfortunately this Ozone Rule is only one part of the regulatory assault by the Obama Administration on our economy. Notably, the Ozone Rule is at cross purposes with the new power plant rule, whereby we’re going to further punish carbon based energy and that making the transition, if we’re going to comply with that power plant standard we’ve got to make a transition…to natural gas. Unfortunately because of hydraulic fracturing that drilling activity does create minimal levels of ground level ozone, which will render us unable to comply with the ozone standard. So if we have both of these things at once, we won’t be able to have natural gas as a bridge fuel.” (emphasis added)

What does it mean to be in “non-attainment”? The report says that,

“Under the Clean Air Act, cities and counties that do not meet the NAAQS for ozone are placed into “non-attainment,” or violation of federal environmental standards. Once in non-attainment, state officials are required to develop an “implementation plan” that imposes new restrictions across the economy, especially the transportation, construction and energy industries. The EPA has veto power over these implementation plans. States that refuse to comply, or have their implementation plans rejected, face regulatory and financial sanctions imposed on them directly from the federal government.” (Findings, emphasis added)

This is especially bad for Pennsylvanians because the state is on the verge of becoming 100 percent compliant with current ozone standards and this rule would really set the state back. As the report explains,

“Pennsylvania has made great strides in improving its air quality. For example, Philadelphia’s ozone level in 1980 was 152 ppb. Today, that number has been cut in half. Similarly, in Pittsburgh, the ozone level in 1980 was 115 ppb. Since then, it has fallen by more than a third. Reductions of similar magnitudes have been recorded across the Commonwealth during the past three-and-a-half decades.“ (Findings)

Air quality has improved so much that “in August 2015, Pennsylvania’s positive air quality trends were recognized by an EPA proposal to reclassify five of the 17 marginal non-attainment counties as fully compliant with the 2008 ozone standard.” In fact according to CRS,

“The EPA recently proposed reclassifying the city of Reading and surrounding Buck’s County into full compliance with the existing 75 ppb standard. According to the EPA, Philadelphia and the other “collar counties” are also close to reaching the existing standard, and may achieve that goal within the next year.” (Findings)

As Somerset County Commissioners John P. Vatavuk (D), Joe Betta (R) and Pamela Tokar-Ickes (D) told the EPA, they “firmly believe that lowering the ozone standard will result in lost economic development opportunities that our region can ill afford,” especially when “air quality in our region has indeed been improving dramatically under the current rules” (Executive Summary). And Somerset County is not in immediate danger of being thrown into non-attainment.

And this won’t just impact the manufacturing sector. It would impact many industries across the state including the Marcellus Shale industry and even Pennsylvania’s farmers, as the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau testified earlier this year.

This aspect of the new regulations is something local chambers of commerce addressed when discussing their concerns to CRS:

“In an interview with CRS, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce CEO Vince Matteo said the EPA is jeopardizing the local economy’s ‘serious growth’ in recent years ‘as a result of our commitment to foster new business in the region.’ Matteo said the region is achieving clean-air goals through practical measures, such as building new natural gas-fired power plants. ‘But these impossibly strict ozone regulations will handcuff our small and mid-size businesses, costing jobs and hurting our local economy,’ he said. ‘How does EPA expect these unrealistic standards to be met?’” (page 44, emphasis added)

What’s more is recent polling shows Pennsylvanians know the air has improved and oppose federal regulation that would hinder the state’s growth. From the report,

A statewide public opinion poll, commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, found almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Pennsylvania voters rate their local air quality as “Excellent” or “Good.” By a three-to-one margin, Pennsylvanians believe that a bigger problem for their local area is “less economic growth and job opportunities caused by regulations” (68 percent) rather than “lower air quality caused by pollution” (23 percent). Two-thirds (67 percent) of Pennsylvania voters believe stricter federal air quality regulations would make it harder for local businesses to start new operations or expand. Three-quarters (75 percent) think stricter federal air quality regulations would increase the price they pay for everyday goods and services, and 76 percent believe tighter federal rules on their local area would increase taxes. (page 10, emphasis added)

Today, just as Pennsylvania is about to meet EPA’s already strict standards, Washington is going to move the goalposts and put the state back into the penalty box. Doing so is simply dismissive of the strong efforts made in the state. The reality is Pennsylvania businesses, residents, elected officials and community leaders agree that EPA’s ozone proposal would hit Pennsylvania hard.

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