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House Takes Up Bill to Delay Ozone Rule Compliance

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to alter the current standards for ground level ozone pollution, something the House bill would give him legal cover for. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to alter the current standards for ground level ozone pollution, something the House bill would give him legal cover for. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans plan to vote this week on a measure that would delay the compliance date for an Obama-era ground level ozone standard that they say would put an undue economic burden on industry.

The bill (HR 806) would also give legal cover to the Environmental Protection Agency as its administrator, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, looks to replace the current standards with levels more flexible for states and their economic development plans.

The Rules Committee will meet Monday at 5 p.m. to consider the rule structure and potential amendments for floor consideration, with an eye toward final passage by Tuesday.

The bill would would delay implementation of the EPA’s 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone from 2017 until 2025 and alter the timeline for future EPA reviews to every 10 years, compared with the five-year cycles it currently follows.

“We want to make sure that common sense is included,” bill sponsor Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, told CQ Roll Call. “With these new rules, you have to take into account jobs and the economy. Right now, they don’t do that.”

The chief complaint of the regulation’s opponents centers on how the EPA finalized guidance for the standards issued in 2008. That process took until early 2015 to complete, after which the EPA issued new standards in October 2015 that further lowered allowable levels to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from the previous 75 ppb.

“The current system is broken,” Olson said. “The guys have been waiting seven years to get some certainty, and all of a sudden it changes. We said we want clean air and water, but give them at least 10 years, if they need it.”

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the EPA estimates that 40 percent of the population, including 224 counties in 25 states and the District of Columbia, live in areas that would classify as in “nonattainment” of the 75 ppb standards set in the 2008 standard.

That number of non-attainment areas would jump to 241 counties in 33 states under the 70 ppb standard, per EPA estimates. By the EPA estimates, it would cost $1.4 billion annually to meet the standards in those areas, outside of California, by 2025, although industry estimates put it much higher.

Diminished Air Quality

House Democrats argue that the delay outlined in the bill would have an adverse effect on air quality, leading to increased instances of asthma, pulmonary disease and heart disease.

“What this bill does, it guts the Clean Air Act,” Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said during a June 28 House Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the bill. “It allows more pollution and threatens the public health. If America is going to be a leader in the world in science, why would we say we are not going to consider the science when we are considering our environmental laws and standards in the public health?”

Castor proposed an amendment to the Rules Committee that would prevent implementation of the bill should the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee find “that application could increase health risks to vulnerable populations including children, seniors, pregnant women, outdoor workers, and minority and low-income communities.”

That amendment was rejected by Energy and Commerce during the subcommittee and full committee markups of the bill.

Regardless, compliance with the ozone standards has already been delayed a year by the EPA. In a June 6 letter to governors, Pruitt told states they will now have until October 2018 to submit their proposals for area designations under the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone after the administrator deemed it too economically burdensome to meet at this point.

That delay could give the EPA time to review and reconsider the standard under the Trump administration’s position that EPA and other regulations have hindered economic development.

Pruitt, in his previous role as Oklahoma attorney general, joined a coalition of states led by Arizona and industry advocates such as Murray Energy and the National Association of Manufacturers in a lawsuit arguing that compliance with the rule would be excessively expensive, job-killing and almost impossible to put in action.

The Senate counterpart (S 263) to the bill has had a legislative hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee, but its progress is likely to be blocked by Senate Democrats from ever getting to the Senate floor.

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