Debunking the EPA Ozone Arguments

By October 22, 2007General

The National Center for Policy Analysis today released a briefing paper on the EPA’s proposed ozone regulations. The piece by Joel Schwartz and H. Sterling Burnettt provides a clear explanation of why the proposed rules make no sense on the grounds of science, health or economics. (Which leaves, what? Political pressure? Green transcendentalism?)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a new federal standard for ozone air pollution that is much stricter than the current limit. If the proposal is adopted, the EPA will reclassify most regions of the United States as “nonattainment” areas. This means they violate the EPA standard and will be required to implement costly measures to comply with the new limits. Cities unable to meet the new standard could face federal restrictions on development, road-building and construction of new commercial and industrial facilities.

A more stringent ozone standard might be worthwhile if current ozone levels posed a significant threat to human health, and if making the standard stricter were cost free. However, neither of these conditions hold true. The current ozone standard is already low enough that exceeding it poses little or no health risk. And because the new standard will be difficult to meet in many areas — even if all vehicle, industrial and household emissions are eliminated — it arguably poses a more serious threat to Americans’ welfare than the health risks of today’s already-low ozone levels.

We especially appreciate the questioning of the EPA’s science. Too often an agency’s scientific rationale for increasing regulation goes unquestioned: The scientists say it’s so, so don’t dare question it. But as we’ve noted before, a key tenet of those who would drastically reduce ozone emissions is that ozone exacerbates asthma, yet the evidence is that asthma rates have increased while ozone levels have decreased. Hard to draw a causal relationship.

In fact, the American Thoracic Society has concluded that poverty, not pollution, is the number one risk factor for asthma. Measures that increase unemployment and reduce household income increase the risk of asthma.

So the reduced economic activity engendered by the ozone regulations — estimated annual costs of the regulation are $2.5 billion to $33 billion — could do real harm.

Good work by Schwartz and Burnett, offering sound and understandable explanations of why the EPA’s regulation is so misdirected. The NAM believes the current standards serve the environment and the economy well. Our final comments to the EPA making that case are available here as a .pdf file.

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