Implementing stricter Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) smog regulations will protect Americans from ozone’s dangerous health effects, lower long-term health care costs, and spark new investment in green jobs.
On September 2, 2011, President Obama rejected a proposed rule by the EPA to reduce ground level ozone from the 2008 standard of 0.75 parts per million to a range between 0.6 and 0.7 part per million. The new rule would have thrown hundreds of counties out of compliance and required state and local governments to implement stricter enforcement protocols. The Obama administration states that it will enforce the 2008 rule until a scheduled reevaluation of acceptable ozone limits in 2013.
Ground level ozone is formed primarily from photochemical reactions between two major classes of air pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). These reactions depend upon the presence of heat and sunlight, resulting in higher ambient ozone concentrations in the summer months. Ozone contributes to what we typically experience as smog or haze.
The EPA cites that “breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs and repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.” Moreover, the EPA reports that if the stricter smog standard is not implemented, 17,000 Americans will die prematurely, 11,000 people would have heart attacks and 120,000 children would experience asthma attacks every year. Opponents of the new EPA rule claim that a 0.6 part per million ozone standard would cost as much as $1 trillion to implement and eliminate 7.2 million jobs by 2020. However, this economic analysis is largely exaggerated and fails to take into account lower healthcare costs and new investment in green jobs.
Since the Clean Air Act’s enactment in 1970, U.S. GDP has increased by 210 percent and air pollution has decreased by 60 percent. This statistic shows that the U.S. economy has grown significantly since the Clean Air Act was enacted.
Even after 1997 (when ozone standards were previously reduced), economic data has consistently shown that EPA ozone regulations have had little to no effect on the U.S. economy. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, economies in heavily ozone polluted regions subject to EPA ozone standards grew at a rate of 0.07 percent from 2004 to 2008 compared to 0.87 percent for the country overall. This difference was not found to be statistically significant. Moreover, unemployment in the areas subject to restrictions rose by a smaller amount than the country overall: 2.21 percent versus 2.3 percent.
The stricter EPA ozone regulation will also lower long term health care costs. The EPA reported that its proposed regulation could save up to $100 billion in healthcare expenditures by 2020.6 In addition, stricter environmental regulations have consistently been shown to promote job growth. In August 2011, the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management found that emissions standards compliance and clean vehicle research and development have already been responsible for creating 155,000 jobs at 504 facilities across the country. The report concluded that 119,000 of those jobs were created in the industry since 2009. According to a study from the University of Massachusetts, requiring coal utilities to run cleaner would actually create 1.5 million new jobs each year for five years after the regulation took effect.
Unfortunately, due to the upcoming election season, supporters will have to wait until the 2013 reevaluation period to push for enactment of this stricter ozone regulation. In the meantime, constituents can lobby their elected representative on this issue. Most importantly, electing a pro-EPA President in 2012 will be vital. The EPA has already made plans to implement this new standard. However, to gain broader support, the agency should research new ways to lower the cost of implementation.