Executive Summary for the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Hearing
on the Challenges and Implications of EPA’s Proposed National Ambient Air Quality
Standard for Ground-Level Ozone
June 3, 2015
Witnesses – Panel 1
Senator John Thune (R-SD); Congressmen Pete Olson (R-TX)
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Witnesses – Panel 2
Mr. Michael McKee (Chairman, Uintah County Commission)
Mr. Kanathur Srikanth (Director, National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board,
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)
The Honorable Gary Moore (Judge/Executive, Boone County Kentucky; President, National Association of Regional
Dr. Gregory B. Diette (MD, MHS, Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology & Environmental Healthy Science, Johns Hopkins University)
Mr. Larry Greene (Executive Director, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District)
On June 3, 2015, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works held a hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to update air quality standards for ground-level ozone. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set outdoor air quality standards based on the best available science. EPA is required to review such standards every five years. EPA last updated the standards in 2008 and set the standard at 75 parts per billion (ppb). In November 2014, EPA proposed to lower the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb. EPA contends the proposed updates will improve public health protection, particularly for children, the elderly, and people who have lung diseases such as asthma.
There has been backlash against EPA’s proposal for a lower standard, especially from officials who are responsible for implementing and administering the new standard. A few members of Congress responded to the backlash and recently proposed three pieces of legislation that would combat EPA’s proposal and moderate EPA’s authority going forward. The Senate Committee held the hearing to conduct oversight of EPA by examining the proposed legislation
and hearing directly from a panel of officials who both oppose and support the new standard.
During opening remarks, Chairman Inhofe (R-OK) provided several reasons for opposition to the lower standard, including the cost of the regulation and its effect on jobs. The projected cost of the regulation is close $1.7 trillion – the most expensive regulation in history – and 1.4 million jobs may be lost. Additionally, 67% of counties nationwide would fail to meet the proposed lower standards, which would result in stiff federal penalties, lost highway dollars,
restrictions of infrastructure investment, and increased costs to business.
Senator Boxer (D-CA) briefly acknowledged the economic effects of the new standard during her opening remarks, but focused mainly on the health effects of ozone inhalation, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, emphysema, and premature death.
The first panel consisted of Senator Thune (R-SD), Congressman Olson (R-TX), and Senator Flake (R-AZ). Senator Thune introduced the bipartisan CASE Act, which would require 85% of counties to achieve the 2008 standard before EPA can lower the standard. Congressman Olson introduced the House version of the bill. Senator Flake introduced two bills. The first would extend EPA’s review timeline from every five years to every ten years. The second bill – known as the CLEAR Act – would amend the Exceptional Events rule in the current regulation. States rely on the rule when events out of human control contribute to ozone readings exceeding the allowed level. Under the current rule, the EPA determines whether an event is exceptional. The amended rule would ease the burden of states by deferring to the states own findings.
The second panel consisted of both officials who oppose and support the lower standard. Mr. McKee, the Chairman of Uinta County Commission in Utah, expressed his concerns with the lower standard and winter ozone levels. Under the current standard, Uinta County is facing nonattainment penalties. According to Mr. McKee, failure to meet the standard is due to winter ozone levels, which is beyond human control. Mr. McKee fears Uinta County and others like it across the country will be penalized further under the lower standard. Mr. Srikanth spoke on behalf of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and agreed that an examination of current ozone standards is needed, however, federal assistance to states is critical to help the states attain the standard.
The Honorable Mr. Moore spoke of the economic effects of a lower standard would have on county projects and planning. According to Mr. Moore, many projects would have to be reconsidered under the new rules and more stringent ozone standards would create unfunded mandates in certain counties. Mr. Moore emphasized the inhibiting effects the lower standard would have on rural counties and small metropolitan areas, especially on those that did not have issues with nonattainment before.
Conversely, Dr. Diette and Mr. Green encouraged the lower standard. Dr. Diette spoke extensively on the harmful effects ozone inhalation has on vulnerable individuals, including children, the elderly, and those with respiratory diseases. According to Dr. Diette, the science behind these effects is very strong. Mr. Green admitted that it has been difficult for Sacramento to meet the requirements, and he stated he is aware of the costs to business, but he emphasized that the regulations are based on real public health threats, and thus should be implemented.
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