EPA must consider economic consequences

Matthew Zimmerman Nov. 7, 2010, 7:14am

Despite the fact that the Illinois economy is already hurting, the EPA wants to impose yet another economic burden on the state in the form of a new air-quality standard for ground-level ozone.

EPA wants to lower the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to as low as 60 ppb. The costs would be huge, particularly in Illinois where our economy depends on our status as a transportation and manufacturing hub. A Manufacturers Alliance study estimates that complying with the tighter standard would cost 400,000 jobs in the state and a total of 7.2 million jobs nationally over the next 15 to 20 years. Economic losses would top $36 billion in just Illinois alone.

The law requires EPA to review ozone standards only every five years, and those reviews typically take even longer as the agency invites public comment and considers new scientific data and information. This time, EPA is proposing to lower the standards again just two years after the last regular, five-year review. The agency has offered little scientific justification for its proposal, and it's not clear that a lower standard would improve public health.

If EPA moves forward, large swaths of Illinois may not be able to meet the new standards. The state has already adopted the policies and procedures with the biggest impact. Any other steps would require large investments in time, energy, and funding that would deliver relatively little return. One example: Changing state-wide vehicle standards to something closer to California's – the strictest in the country – would add hundreds of dollars to new vehicles yet barely dent the gap between the proposed new standard and actual ozone emissions in Illinois.

Based on EPA data, close to 40 Illinois counties – primarily located in and around the state's major population centers – would exceed the proposed new standard and become "non-attainment areas." Non attainment status brings consequences that will weigh on Illinois' economy for years.

These include:

--As much as $61 billion in annual attainments costs in the form of offsets and mitigation technologies.

--Acceleration in the number of companies moving out of Illinois to lower-cost jurisdictions.

--Loss of federal funding for transportation projects.

The lower standard that EPA established in 2008 is reasonable and prudent, and will help clear the air in places where that's needed. But many places in Illinois, such as my hometown in DuPage County, are doing just fine. We breathe the air every day without worry.

Yet the EPA basically wants to tell us that isn't the case, that it's so bad we need to drastically change our way of life.

Our members of Congress need to tell President Obama and the EPA to hold off on imposing this new standard until the agency can conduct a proper cost-benefit analysis. They'll learn that the new standard is bad for Illinois's businesses, workers, and economy.

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