Column: Calm climate hysteria
On July 18, the House passed the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, which instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementing a microscopic and expensive adjustment to national air quality standards promulgated by the Obama-era EPA. Democrats, environmental groups and their loyal allies in the legacy media predictably reacted as if the world was coming to an end. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the course of human events has so much hysteria been generated by so many over so little.
Worrying about trivialities such as a 5 parts per billion reduction in an air quality standard is one of those “rich people problems” that should embarrass us as a nation. The healthier and wealthier the society, the worse it is at making reasonable risk/benefit assessments, and many Americans have become neurotic over these minute changes.
This is true in both the private sector and the public sector. We are, after all, a nation with among the cleanest public drinking water systems in the world. There are dozens of developing nations where people would weep tears of joy if the toxic soup they consume on a day-to-day basis were replaced with water meeting our exacting quality standards. Yet, there are companies who sell water filtration products to gullible consumers whom the manufacturers have convinced that reducing a teensy-tiny amount of a particular contaminant to a somewhat teensier-tinier amount is somehow not only desirable, but necessary.
And so it goes with EPA’s ambient air ozone standard. Ozone, commonly referred to as smog, has been linked to asthma and other lung-related issues. At high enough concentrations, ozone can certainly cause massive problems, but “high enough” is the point in dispute. A 16th century Swiss physician famously observed that “the dose makes the poison.” For example, you absolutely need sodium in your bloodstream to live, but ingesting too much sodium for too long can kill you.
What do we know about ozone and what concentrations are dangerous to humans? As ozone concentrations have consistently dropped around the nation over the past four decades, asthma rates have consistently climbed. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equate to causation, but there’s not even correlation here. Of course, that hasn’t stopped environmental groups, the legacy media, Democrats, and even some Republicans from continuing to claim current ozone concentrations and asthma rates are somehow linked.
We also know the allowable ambient air concentrations of ozone have been reduced twice. They were first reduced under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, from 120 ppb (one-hour average) to 80 ppb (eight-hour average). They were decreased again under President George W. Bush, to 75 ppb (eight-eight hour average). Then President Barack Obama’s grossly biased scientific advisory panel recommended a further reduction, anywhere from 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Obama chose 70 ppb.
If tiny reductions in ozone concentrations have so many benefits, as environmental groups claim, why didn’t the president choose 60 ppb, the lowest number possible? Lowering the standard to 60 ppb would have negatively affected so many counties across the nation with detrimental economic consequences that the change would have been wildly unpopular. Choosing 70 ppb was politically savvy; that standard would still be expensive to adhere to, but not catastrophically so, and it would still be make virtually no difference in people’s lives, but it provided Obama with the opportunity to throw a tasty bone to his green supporters.
Democrats have labeled the Republican effort to delay this latest, infinitesimal reduction in the ozone standard “The Smoggy Skies Act,” proving they have no greater interest in trying to evaluate risk and reward in the real world than they do about considering the value of scientists and scientific data that doesn’t fit their “climate change” agenda.
Rich Trzupek is a chemist who has been employed as an environmental consultant to industry for more than 25 years. He is a policy adviser to The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank based Illinois.