Policy Relevant Background (PRB) levels of ozone in many locations and throughout the Intermountain West often exceed the upper part of EPA’s proposed range. Reducing the ozone standard as proposed will require unique and costly implementation challenges where these are even possible. Emissions inventories at mining operations tend to be dominated by those from heavy mobile equipment and are an inherent function of the machinery that is unsuitable for add on controls. Moreover, overlapping emissions stem from nearby oil and gas operations, especially in coal producing regions, and are not attributable to mining per se.
The proposed standard is expected to have far-reaching impacts on the U.S. economy, according to the NMA. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the agency’s proposal to tighten the existing 75 parts per billion (ppb) standard for ground level ozone (particulate matter) to between 70-65 ppb will throw between 76-96% of counties nationwide into nonattainment status, triggering restrictions on economic growth that would make the rule the costliest in history.
Industry groups attacked EPA’s much lower cost estimates as wholly unrealistic. At 65 ppb, for example, fully 75% of EPA’s total estimated program costs are derived from controls that the agency admits are “unknown” but merely anticipates will become available. Meanwhile, EPA capped costs of known controls despite evidence of inflationary increases and greatly underestimated the number of counties facing nonattainment status. EPA claims the Bush-era standard is no longer protective of human health and justifies a tougher standard despite the industry’s success in reducing smog by half since 1980.
NMA supports legislation by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would extend the mandatory five-year air quality review period to 10 years and defer revisions to the current ozone standard until 2017. A House panel is holding oversight hearings on the proposed revision this week. Also yesterday in the Senate, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced a bi-partisan bill to block EPA from revising the existing ground-level ozone standard to prevent, in Thune’s words, “a staggering blow to our economy.” Manchin called attention to the short timeframe currently allowed for revisions in clean air standards. Tightening the standard now as the EPA proposes when states “have not had sufficient time to comply with the existing standards is unfair,” he said.