The latest clash between the Obama administration’s environmental policies and the Republican Congress is over a plan to lower the ozone standard as a way to clean up the air and boost American’s health.
Announced in November, the proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on the examination table at a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Also on the table are three pieces of legislation that would impact the EPA’s clean air authority.
The ozone proposal would set a new standard for ground-level ozone – known as smog – at between 65 and 70 parts per billion, as measured by air-quality monitors. That’s a drop from the current 75 parts per billion, a standard that was set in 2008.
The Obama administration said doing so would help curtail the rising problem of asthma and other respiratory ailments.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill and business and industry in general have pushed back on the proposed change, which is just one of several clashes that pit the GOP against the White House as Barack Obama seeks to cement his legacy.
On the environmental front, the White House is pushing hard on a major initiative to cut carbon pollution at the nation’s power plants, the ozone plan, and a plan to clarify which waterways are and aren’t covered by the Clean Water Act. A final version of the water rule was announced last week, although opponents still hope to stymie it legislatively.
All those battles pit businesses and their claims of regulatory choke holds against environmentalists seeking to improve the health of the public and the planet.
That’s certainly true in the ozone debate, which has broken along predictable lines.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the committee and is a frequent and harsh critic of the president’s climate change agenda and the EPA, noted that the first hearing he ever held as chairman of a clean air subcommittee was in 1997 on the ozone standard. He said the EPA’s ozone proposal is “the most expensive regulation in history” and that it will cost $1.7 trillion and 1.4 million jobs.
He added, in a prepared statement: “This proposal, like many of the EPA’s recent proposals, will have negligible environmental benefits, is based on questionable health benefits and comes with unequivocal economic costs. Instead of creating a new regime of costly, job-killing mandates, the EPA should focus its efforts on helping counties that have not yet met the 1997 or the 2008 standards. A new standard at this time is not only irresponsible, but also impractical and economically destructive.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Barbara Boxer of California, challenged the premise of the jobs vs. the environment debate.
“Despite what some of my Republican colleagues may try to claim today, scientists overwhelmingly agree that EPA needs to adopt a stricter standard to protect the health of the American people, especially our children and the elderly,” she said in her prepared statement. “We have known since 2008 that the current ozone standard does not provide the necessary health safeguards. … I often say, if people can’t breathe, they can’t go to work or school. Ozone pollution has been proven to cause thousands of lost school days and work days each year, as well as an increased number of asthma attacks and bronchitis cases, and more emergency room visits and hospital admissions.”