Another attempt to clean up the environment, another House hearing on why we shouldn’t do that.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acting assistant administrator Janet McCabe defended the updated ground-level ozone rule at a House energy and commerce subcommittee hearing. The proposed rule aims to further limit ground-level ozone pollution, which is the main ingredient of smog.
The EPA has proposed lowering the national air quality standards for ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 or 70 ppb — a change the agency says will save millions of people from the effects of poor air quality. The agency reviewed thousands of new scientific studies on health and air quality to come up with the new guidelines, which are expected to be finalized in the fall. By law, the EPA is required to reevaluate the ozone rule every five years. The House has already scheduled two more hearings on the rule this week.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans were roundly unhappy with rule. Here are five arguments McCabe came up against.
It’s not fair.
Several lawmakers went with a favorite childhood argument: that the rule isn’t fair. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) managed to work in a reference to the Congressional softball game, likening improved public health regulations to moving the foul lines at a recreational event.
“Had we started the game, and then halfway through the game, the number of strikes changed or in the second inning, the number of outs changed… that would make for a very frustrating, impossible game, don’t you agree?” Shimkus said.
Video | C-SPAN.orgEdit descriptionwww.c-span.orgThe problem with the argument is that rules for games are, in fact, made up, whereas the EPA is seeking to put new standards in place based on the best science available.
Or, as McCabe said, “Ozone is not about rules. This is about science.”
The EPA doesn’t have the time.
Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) questioned whether the EPA would be able to manage working with states to implement the new rule, especially while the agency is already working with states on the Clean Power Plan.
“I don’t see how you can possibly have the resources,” Long said.
The House, along with the Senate, is responsible for allocating funding to the EPA. In fact, just two days before the hearing, Long’s colleagues in the House Subcommittee on Interior Appropriations approved a bill to cut EPA funding by 9 percent.
America’s military readiness will be put at risk.
“How is your agency planning on ensuring your revised national standard will not jeopardize national security?” asked Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), whose district includes Fort Bragg. She said the rule would limit development at military bases.
If nothing else, Ellmers appeared to have taken the administrator by surprise.
“Uh, Congresswoman, I am not aware of any instance in which the ozone standard has interfered with our military readiness,” McCabe responded.
Video | C-SPAN.orgEdit descriptionwww.c-span.orgThe U.S. military has time and again advocated for environmental and climate stewardship. In fact, a 2007 Army regulation says, “The Army is committed to environmental stewardship in all actions as an integral part of its mission and to ensure sustainability.” North Carolina’s own Camp Lejeune is getting a 13-megawatt solar installation. The more solar and electric vehicles the military in North Carolina uses, the less ozone it will create.
Ozone pollution “is beyond our control.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) said the ozone in his district comes from Mexico. Other representatives blamed China, and some pointed out that rural areas could still have high levels of ozone, without any industry to speak of.
“The mountains themselves produce ozone,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who represents an eastern Appalachian district. “Do we have to go out in the forests — national or private — and say you gotta cut down the black gum, the oak, the poplar, and the willow?”
Video | C-SPAN.orgEdit descriptionwww.c-span.orgThere are two, very simple rebuttals to these concerns. First, most human-caused ozone is produced locally or regionally, according to EPA data. Second, the regulations already have taken background ozone levels into consideration.
“The Clean Air Act does not hold states responsible for ozone they can’t control,” McCabe said. She also points out that air quality continues to get better, and rural areas that are getting ozone from surrounding industry and traffic will see improvements over time, even without taking direct action.
Money, money, money.
Unsurprisingly, economic cost was a recurring theme for representatives.
“Don’t you believe that having a good paying job with health benefits is also protective of human health?” asked Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) “You’re not making those cost-benefit analyses.”
As McCabe pointed out, the EPA has been regulating ozone levels since the 1970s, and the national economy has tripled during that time. Moreover, the Supreme Court has already ruled that economic considerations should not be part of calculating air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.
“That’s not our job,” McCabe said. “We just are telling you what is safe and healthy.”
The agency’s cost projections differ dramatically from private calculations. The EPA estimates that a 65–70 ppb standard would cost $3.9 billion to $15 billion annually. In addition, Americans would see health savings of $6.4 billion to $38 billion, giving a net economic benefit of somewhere between $3.5 billion and $23 billion. The National Manufacturers’ Association, on the other hand, estimated the rule will cost Americans 10 to 35 times that: $140 billion a year.