Editorial: Ozone rules would hurt Michigan

The Detroit News

The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to decrease ozone in the atmosphere by lowering acceptable federal standards of the gas. But the efforts are unnecessary, especially considering certain levels of ozone exist organically near the ground.

And with a $90 billion per year price tag, new regulations — which come just seven years after their last update — unnecessarily threaten the economy.

The ozone standard, part of the Clean Air Act, doesn't directly regulate business.

But it requires that states comply, which means utility companies, factories, refineries and other ozone-emitting businesses would have to install new equipment to meet new standards.

In 2008, the EPA set the ozone standard at 75 parts per billion (ppb), a level that a federal court recently ruled adequately protects public health.

Now the agency wants to lower the standard to anywhere from 60 to 70 ppb.

That change would also be particularly detrimental to Michigan's economy, which relies heavily on manufacturing and other businesses that fall under these regulations.

Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter to President Barack Obama's administration last week urging the federal government to reconsider the changes that would affect Michigan so greatly.

If the standard is lowered to 60 ppb, Michigan would lose $75 billion in gross state product from 2017 to 2040, along with more than 80,000 jobs per year and billions more in compliance costs, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

With about 110,000 manufacturing jobs created in Michigan since 2009, according to the Michigan Manufacturers Association, these effects would be devastating.

The EPA says a lower threshold will protect public health and produce higher savings for healthcare costs related to respiratory problems, including asthma.

But the data behind the EPA's argument is questionable.

It has interpreted studies, including one out of the University of California, Davis, to conclude ozone is more harmful than it likely is.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which advises Congress and the EPA on rules, often creates the worst case scenario to examine pollution effects — scenarios that hardly play out in real life.

Additionally, the proposed standards come close to ruling levels of naturally occurring ozone unacceptable. For example, Big Bend National Park in Texas, which contains no industrial facilities, has an ozone level of 71 ppb.

If standards are pushed to the lowest possible, no areas in Michigan will be in compliance with current emission levels, which means investment will shift to compliance efforts.

Many states are still behind complying with 2008 standards.

Such instability in regulations makes it a difficult climate for businesses to plan and grow.

This is no time for the EPA to mandate new, costly regulations on businesses still trying to adjust to the agency's latest demands just a few years ago, and Snyder is right to push back on Washington's efforts.