Dulmes: EPA ozone rule would stunt Michigan economy

John Dulmes

As many of us already know, while Michigan’s economy is recovering, it’s still fragile. Years after the recession officially ended, almost 500,000 Michiganians remain out of work. Our economic growth trails the national average: it’s a sluggish 1.9 percent annually. We have made progress, but the last thing our state’s economy needs is a shock to its system.

Yet that’s exactly what the Environmental Protection Agency has in store. The agency wants to reduce the amount of ozone in the United States. Ozone is a gas that is both naturally occurring and the result of some industrial emissions. However, because it is known to be a health risk at high concentrations near the Earth’s surface, the EPA wants to tighten ozone rules from the currently allowable 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 pbb.

This might seem like a small change in pursuit of a laudable goal, but closer examination reveals otherwise. The EPA’s new rules will yield little improvement in air quality, while imposing heavy costs on our economy — particularly our lifeblood manufacturing sector. The EPA’s regulators should reconsider this plan.

For starters, it’s debatable whether the new rules are necessary. As a result of air quality efforts we’ve already made, the U.S. has seen drastic decreases in ozone emissions. Over the last 30 years, ozone concentrations declined 33 percent. All evidence suggests this progress will continue.

What’s more, the national average for ground-level ozone has reached 67 ppb. That approaches the background levels in many areas of the country. And new research has indicated that much of America’s ozone levels may actually come from Chinese emissions, rather than domestic sources. So meeting these tighter regulations could be expensive yet futile.

Moreover, the EPA hasn’t even fully implemented the current standard, which was set only seven years ago. Like many other states, Michigan is still working to comply with that regulation. Almost 20 percent of our counties have levels that currently average more than 75 ppb. Nationwide, 24 states are still working to implement the 2008 standard, according to the EPA.

The good news is that Michigan can produce cleaner air by continuing our work under the current rule. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, “EPA’s own modeling predicts southeast Michigan would meet a 70 ppb standard by 2025 strictly by implementing regulations that are already in place or in the process of being finalized.”

If the EPA goes ahead with its proposed regulation, most of Michigan would immediately be considered “noncompliant.” For example, 68 percent of our state would be noncompliant under a 70 ppb standard. A 65 ppb standard would push that number to a staggering 87 percent.

The effects of this rule would inflict substantial economic pain on the Wolverine State. Michiganians would pay more than $1 billion in compliance costs and give up some $17 billion in economic output in the next two decades. We would lose the equivalent of 20,000 full-time positions per year in lost hours and jobs, and drivers would have to pay $58 million more to operate their cars.

Nationwide, the proposal would be similarly devastating. According to NERA Economic Consulting, the EPA’s ozone restrictions would cost the nation $140 billion annually. It would be the most expensive federal regulation ever.

We agree with Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who earlier this year concluded that our state would be much better off if the EPA simply focused its efforts on meeting the existing ozone standard. Its over-reaching new goal would do little to nothing to improve air quality — but will succeed in devastating our economy.

John Dulmes is executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council, a nonprofit organization.