PI Original Adam Doster Friday January 8th, 2010, 5:45pm

EPA Turns To Smog As Polluters Whine

The Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving quickly
to address environmental dangers ignored by the Bush administration.
Yesterday, they set out to strengthen one regulation gutted by their
predecessor: smog standards. The New York Times reports...

The Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving quickly to address environmental dangers ignored by the Bush administration. Yesterday, they set out to strengthen one regulation gutted by their predecessor: smog standards. The New York Times reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed a stricter standard for smog-causing pollutants that would bring substantial health benefits to millions of Americans while imposing large costs on industry and local governments.

The standard would replace one set by the Bush administration in March 2008, which has been challenged in court by state officials and environmental advocates as too weak to adequately protect human health and the environment.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was one of those officials. In May of 2008, the Chicago Democrat -- along with 13 other states -- filed a petition in a federal appeals court asking for a review of the final Bush decision. "It is absolutely vital," she said at the time, "that the EPA follow the science on this issue and adopt a standard that protects public health."

That's exactly what the agency is attempting to do. Under their new guidelines, the amount of smog counties could emit would drop from the current standard of 75 parts per billion to somewhere between 60 to 70 billion. States will be required to submit plans showing how they will comply by 2013. The new rules would be phased in between 2014 and 2031, with penalties consisting of fines and loss of federal highway financing. Deadlines will depend on the air quality of the given region, meaning places like Chicago with dense smog pollution would have more time act.

By 2020, the EPA estimates that complying with the new standard would cost between $19 billion and $90 billion a year. Forced to refine cleaner gas or retrofit power plants, utility companies and manufacturers that generate most of the toxins would incur the majority of those costs. As with any new environmental regulation, consumers could end up paying slightly more for gas and utilities if that expense is passed along at the pump or in a bill, a concern the Illinois Petroleum Council is already highlighting:

SYKUTA: What if this ends up costing $5.50 a gallon? Is that an acceptable number? What if it means that the four huge refineries that employ tens of thousands of the highest-paid industrial workers in the state... What's it mean if they lose their jobs?

What the industry doesn't mention is that net costs would be tamped down thanks to public health savings of limiting smog exposure, pegged at between $13 billion and $100 billion during the same period. That includes preventing up to 12,000 premature deaths per year. Facing similar regulations under the Clean Air Act in the past, industries have also found ways to cut ozone-producing gases more efficiently than anticipated.

A climate bill still has a hard road to hoe. But it's nice to see the EPA picking up some of the slack.

Image used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user ambert.

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