Coming Soon to a Vista Near You: Clearer Air; More Expensive Compliance

On Wednesday, EPA released a proposal to reduce the primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone from the 0.075 ppm standard set by the Bush administration in 2008 to a range of from 0.060-0.070 ppm. EPA also proposed to set a secondary standard intended to protect sensitive ecological areas, such as forests and parks.

As almost everyone knows, the 2008 standard was, to put it mildly, controversial from the start. The proposal today was based on recommendations made to EPA by its science advisors prior to the 2008 rulemaking. Following apparent intervention from the White House, then EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson set the primary standard above the scientific recommendation and declined to promulgate a secondary standard. Not surprisingly, a number of environmental organizations and public heath groups sued EPA over the failure to promulgate a new NAAQS consistent with the scientific recommendations.

Given that the Supreme Court already ruled, in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, that EPA may not consider cost in setting NAAQS (and given the Bush EPA record before appellate courts), the 2008 standards always had “arbitrary and capricious” written all over them, so it’s no surprise that the Obama administration revisited the issue. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that, unlike most of EPA’s rules, the projected benefits of this rule may not even exceed the costs.  According to EPA, the benefits of the rule would range from $13B to $100B, while the costs are projected to range from $19B to $90B.  Not much of a net benefit, it seems to me.  (I’m still waiting for Cass Sunstein to ride to the rescue of cost-benefit analysis in this administration.)

EPA expects to finalize the rule by August 31. Then the rubber really hits the road – when states have to revise SIPs in order to meet the new standards.

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