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House Passes Delay for EPA’s Obama-era Ozone Standards

Rep. John Shimkus said the legislation was a needed change to the previous administration's ozone pollution standards. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. John Shimkus said the legislation was a needed change to the previous administration's ozone pollution standards. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House on Tuesday passed, 229-199, a bill to delay the compliance date for Obama-era ground level ozone standards.

The measure (HR 806) now heads to the Senate, where its fortunes do not appear as clear after Senate Democrats expressed strong opposition to similar language appearing in legislation before the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The House vote on Tuesday represents a victory for Republican and industry advocates who say the standards set in late 2015 by the Obama administration were too economically burdensome for states to meet. The vote also could give EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt more time to change the standards after the agency already delayed by a year an initial step in the process to identify areas that don’t meet the requirements.

“We’ve learned that timelines and procedures established almost 30 years ago can be counterproductive today, resulting in unnecessary costs, regulatory delay and economic uncertainty,” Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill., said. The bill “ensures we will continue to deliver effective environmental protections with reforms that will also help expand economic opportunity in communities around the nation.”

The legislation 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 required by current law.

Advocates argued that the EPA left little time for states to meet the 2008 standards after it issued guidance on those in early 2015, followed by new, more stringent standards by the end of that year. The new standards lowered allowable levels to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from the previous 75 ppb.

In a letter of support to House and Senate leadership, the American Petroleum Institute, along with 146 other industry groups, endorsed the bill as “an important step towards national ambient air quality standards that balance environmental protection and economic development.”

Democrats, however, say the bill and its provisions to change the EPA’s ozone review cycle would roll back the Clean Air Act and the public health benefits the landmark environmental legislation has achieved since its enactment.

“At a time when Republicans in Congress have been almost singularly focused on ramming through legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and rip healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans, this bill adds insult to injury,” Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. said during floor debate. “Plain and simple, the bill before us today would undermine the Clean Air Act as a safeguard of our public health law.”

Democratic opposition was joined by a group of 15 medical organizations led by the American Lung Association that wrote to lawmakers urging them to vote against the bill because its “changes will permanently weaken the core health-based premise of the Clean Air Act — protecting the public from known health effects of air pollution with a margin of safety.”

In an effort to protect against these potential adverse health effects, Democrats proposed an amendment that would prevent implementation of the bill should the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee finds “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 on a 194-232 vote.