By Michael James Barton
Ever wonder what ozone smells like? According to Smithsonian Magazine, it’s “the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain.”
That familiar scent is a combination of plant oils, bacteria, and ozone. But when highly concentrated, it can actually be a pollutant. That’s why the United States has been working to reduce “ground level” ozone for decades.
But the Environmental Protection Agency refuses to write implementation guidelines for its last ozone regulations, which it released in 2008. And instead of clarifying what actions it expects states to follow, the EPA has introduced new regulations that could permanently handicap American businesses and undercut the country’s incremental economic recovery.
Strange that the EPA has time to write more regulations on ground ozone but not the time to implement existing regulations on the exact same matter.
Major precursors of ozone production are industrial emissions, electrical providers, vehicle emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents. Ozone molecules close to the earth’s surface can contribute to smog and can cause serious health problems, chiefly lung damage.
Ozone emissions are notoriously difficult to control. Indeed, the United States is still struggling to lower emissions to meet the ozone standard the EPA put in place in 2008.
However, the EPA is determined to curb ozone emissions still further before even knowing the results of the 2008 regulations that await implementation. The agency recently proposed new regulations that would lower the amount of ozone permitted in ground-level air from 75 parts per billion (ppb) down to between 65 ppb to 70 ppb.
The cost of this rule change to energy producers will be astronomical. The EPA itself concedes that the compliance will cost upwards of $15 billion a year.
And that might be an understatement. A study by the National Association of Manufacturers found that this ozone regulation would cut U.S. GDP by $1.7 trillion from 2017 to 2040, or about $140 billion a year. Researchers also found that it would destroy nearly 1.4 million jobs annually.
Already, the average manufacturer pays about $35,000 in regulatory compliance costs per employee per year. These added costs would be a huge new hit.
These cost upticks will also discourage future investments. According to the American Chemistry Council, 211 shale-related energy projects, totaling $135 billion in capital investment, would likely get shuttered if these new ozone standards are implemented.
Even President Obama has acknowledged that the ozone standards can go too far. In 2011, he halted the EPA from pushing forward new emissions rules that would have cost the country $90 billion per year.
These new rules would choke this industry and throw thousands — if not millions — of jobs into jeopardy.
What’s more, these ozone rules are unnecessary. The quality of the air Americans breathe has been steadily improving over the past 30 years. Indeed, since just 2000, lower ozone levels have improved air quality by 18 percent. And carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides emissions have dropped 42 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
These new ozone regulations are gratuitous and will cost American jobs. For the economy’s sake, they need to be shelved at once. And doing so may afford the EPA some time to implement existing ozone regulations that are overdue by seven years and counting.
Michael James Barton is the Energy Advisor at ARTIS Research and speaks around the country on energy and energy security matters. He previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon.