Pennsylvania businesses resist stricter ozone regulations

Stricter ozone limits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) go into effect Monday, a deadline bemoaned by Pennsylvania businesses and industry groups.

Pennsylvania businesses resist stricter ozone regulations.  

Stricter ozone limits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) go into effect Monday, a deadline bemoaned by Pennsylvania businesses and industry groups.

The groups argue that the new standard will be difficult to implement and is so costly that it will severely impact the state’s economy. 

Furthermore, if any state doesn’t meet the EPA’s ozone standards, it could face penalties that include the loss of federal transportation funding, further stifling statewide employment.

In fact, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) said the EPA's rule -- formally published Oct. 1 in the Federal Register -- could reduce Pennsylvania’s gross state product by more than $98 billion from 2017 to 2040, resulting in an annual loss of roughly 101,000 jobs, costing each household $1,420 per year and ratcheting up some $109 billion in compliance costs.

"The costs of compliance with this regulation would largely be borne by manufacturers, and the EPA can only identify a little more than a third of the controls we would need to install to comply," NAM President Jay Timmons told Pennsylvania Business Daily. "It calls the rest ‘unknown controls’ because it simply cannot tell us what we will have to do. This regulation’s strict mandates will force manufacturers to shut down, scrap or modify existing facilities. This means higher costs for consumers and lost jobs." 

Specifically, the EPA’s final rule implements more stringent air quality standards for ground-level ozone, dropping the current limit of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. The U.S. government started regulating ozone in 1971 when the chemical was linked to human respiratory problems. In 1979, the EPA issued a limit on how much ground-level ozone was acceptable in the atmosphere, setting the initial threshold at 120 ppb. The EPA dropped that standard to 75 ppb in 2008.

Currently, more than half of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will fail to meet the new standard, while much of the state’s Marcellus Shale Region -- considered the top natural gas deposit in the country -- also will be non-compliant, according to sources.

Under the new restrictions, businesses can expect stricter operating rules, more pollution controls and a longer permitting process, David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, told Pennsylvania Business Daily.

Williams said that when regions were labeled noncompliant under previous standards, factories in the area suffered a loss of productivity of 4.8 percent. Workers in these areas saw their earnings cut by 20 percent.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which both failed to meet the EPA’s 2008 ozone standard by the July 2015 deadline, have qualified for a one-year extension, a sign that William Kovacs, senior vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said should be reason to set a different path.

“The EPA should not move the goal post with an unattainable mandate that will slow economic growth opportunities,” he said during a related forum this fall.

Calling Pittsburgh’s most-recent environmental and business successes a comeback story, Kovacs said the EPA’s rule may end the city's progress because businesses will be forced to slow their expansion plans, while outside developers seek other regions in which to do business.

He added that the most at-risk of being denied future job opportunities are urban residents across Pennsylvania.

At the same time, the EPA’s final rule has been met with strong opposition elsewhere around the country. Five states -- Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma -- are even suing the EPA.

Meanwhile, the new ozone pollution threshold also has placed 26 national parks across 11 states, including one in Pennsylvania, at non-compliant levels. Unlike the 240-plus counties around the nation that are on the EPA's non-compliant list, however, the parks may not have to spend billions conforming to the rule. 

The EPA estimates that compliance will cost $1.4 billion annually.

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