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Colorado’s two top Democrats worried about EPA ozone proposals

By   /   September 14, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

AP file photos

NOT SO FAST: Two leading Democrats in Colorado — Sen. Michael Bennet (left) and Gov. John Hickenlooper — fear proposed ozone regulations from the EPA and the Obama administration will hurt the Rocky Mountain State.

In fewer than three weeks, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to strengthen rules on ozone pollution.

Manufacturers and business groups say stronger standards are impractical and expensive — and a couple top Democrats in Colorado say they’re concerned the proposals will go too far.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are worried about what stricter ozone rules will mean for Colorado’s economy and whether it can even meet them.

“I’m deeply concerned about it,” Bennet said during a conference hosted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association last month in Denver. “This is a perfect example of applying the law but doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense on the ground.”

“I’m still very concerned,” Hickenlooper told KCNC-TV. “I’ve heard (from) both sides that there isn’t sufficiently clear evidence that this is a significant health hazard. Now I haven’t looked at that yet, and our people are still looking at it.”

By Oct. 1, the EPA is supposed to announce with new rules for ground-level ozone — commonly known as smog, coming from sources such as tailpipes and smokestacks.

The current standards are at 75 parts per billion. Last year, the EPA announced it was considering lowering that to 65-70 parts per billion. There’s even been discussion of setting the bar at 60 parts per billion, which a number of environmental groups want.

“The proposed EPA limits on ozone don’t go far enough,” the Environmental Defense Fund said on its website. “The science shows that a 60 ppb limit would provide the best possible public health protections for Americans.”

But critics of the tougher ozone standards say lowering levels to 65 parts per billion would put more than half the country out of compliance:

Chart compiled by the American Petroleum Institute. Source: URS

Counties projected to be out of attainment if EPA adopts a 65 parts per billion standard for ozone

Bennett and Hickenlooper say a number of factors, including Colorado’s altitude, will make compliance even tougher.

“Because of pollution that’s coming in from other Western states, from across the globe, from across wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our states that would be non-attainment zones from the very beginning of the law,” Bennett said. “That doesn’t make any sense, it’s not going to work.”

“To set up a standard where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it, and obviously we’re at a unique disadvantage because we’re a mile high,” Hickenlooper said. “So when you’re at 5,000 feet your ozone challenges are significantly more difficult.”

In an email to Watchdog.org, the EPA says stricter proposed standards are based on “a significantly expanded body of scientific evidence,” including more than 1,000 new studies.

“That significantly expanded body of scientific evidence shows that ozone can cause a number of harmful effects on the respiratory system, including difficulty breathing and inflammation of the airways,” EPA said.

As for the complaints lodged by Bennet, EPA told Watchdog.org the agency will work with states to make sure the regulations don’t create “unnecessary control obligations.”

“States would have time to develop and implement plans to meet revised standards, and existing and proposed federal rules will help by making significant strides toward reducing ozone-forming pollution,” the email said.

As for Bennet and Hickenlooper’s concerns that Colorado’s altitude puts the state at a disadvantage, EPA acknowledged “there may be days when background ozone is a significant proportion of local ozone concentrations” at high-elevation sites. But it promises to “simplify the process” to exclude data for areas involved in what the agency calls “exceptional events.”

Nationally, the agency said its “projections show the vast majority of U.S. counties would meet the proposed standards by 2025, just with the rules and programs now in place or under way.”

Related: TV ad blitz in Colorado targets EPA ozone proposals

The National Association of Manufacturers is dead-set against tougher ozone rules and recently launched what it described as a “multi-million” media campaign in selected states across the country, including Colorado, featuring 30-second spots targeting the upcoming EPA proposal.

“Governor Hickenlooper is one of 22 governors who have expressed concerns to the White House directly,” NAM president and CEO Jay Timmons told Watchdog.org in a conference call Thursday. “We’re encouraged that the message is getting out. When folks talk about an expensive regulation, the public is beginning to understand what that means.”

Business groups cite a study from NERA Economic Consulting claiming Colorado will lose $19.5 billion in gross state product between 2017 and 2014 if EPA toughens the ozone standard to 65 ppb. It also claims equivalent job losses in the state of nearly 11,000 per year.

But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy cites the agency’s own figures, saying every $1 spent on tougher ozone standards would produce $3 in health benefits, if the proposal were finalized.

“Special-interest critics will try to convince you that pollution standards chase away local jobs and businesses, but, in fact, healthy communities attract new businesses, new investment, and new jobs,” McCarthy said last November.

“We need to care a lot about our kids and the elderly and the quality of the air that they breathe and we need to care about children in our state that have asthma so my hope is we can work together to get to a rational outcome,” Bennet said. “But the one that’s been proposed (by EPA) is not yet there.”


Rob formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.