The Environmental Protection Agency has announced yet another delay in issuing controversial new ground-level ozone rules—a delay that parties on all sides of the issue now view as a retreat on the plan itself.
The EPA filed a motion Wednesday (Dec. 8) for the additional delay in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, saying that its decision— first promised in August, then by Nov. 1, then by Dec. 31—would not be ready until July 29, 2011.
“EPA is working diligently on its ongoing rulemaking reconsidering the rule challenged in these cases (i.e., the “National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone”),” EPA wrote in the filing in State of Mississippi vs. EPA.
“Reaching a final decision on the reconsideration of the Ozone NAAQS Rule requires the deliberative evaluation of the extensive body of scientific and technical information in the record and the many comments received on the Agency’s Jan. 19, 2010, rulemaking proposal.”
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson “recently determined that additional advice from the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (“CASAC”) may prove useful and important in evaluating the scientific and other information before her,” the filing states.
In January, Jackson announced that EPA would propose the strictest health standards to date for smog, also known as ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone forms when emissions from industrial facilities, power plants, landfills and motor vehicles react in the sun.
EPA is proposing to set the “primary” standard, which protects public health, at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours. The current ozone standard was lowered to 0.075 ppm from 0.084 in March 2008—a level that EPA says is “not protective enough of human health.”
EPA has also proposed setting a separate, seasonal, “secondary” standard to protect the environment, especially plants and trees.
The plan has outraged business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers and American Petroleum Institute (API), and even some Democrats who call it an unnecessary measure that will kill millions of new jobs and consume $1 trillion in regulatory costs.
Delays in the current case will leave the Bush limits in effect for now.
EPA Under Fire
Neither friends nor foes of the ozone proposal are buying EPA’s stated reason for the newest (and longest) delay. The accelerating series of delays has encouraged foes of the plan and instilled suspicion and concern in proponents.
EPA has come under scathing, widespread attack during the Obama administration from associations and individuals in both parties who consider it inflexible and hostile to anti-business.
Republican victories in the November elections have emboldened administration critics, and the heat on EPA has grown strong. Obama’s tax deal with the Republicans last week has fueled the widespread belief that the administration has begun to make major compromises in its agenda.
The New York Times said the delay signaled a “marked departure” from the first two years of the agency under Obama, whose campaign promises included tougher ozone standards.
“Clearly, the agency has heard the calls from manufacturers,” Keith McCoy, vice president for energy and natural resources at NAM, told the Times. “We hope this week’s announcements signal that the EPA is slowing down on overly burdensome and unnecessary rules that will crush economic growth and job creation.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Chairman-elect of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a joint letter to Jackson, praising the delay and promising an investigation if the rules go forward.
The American Petroleum Institute told the Wall Street Journal that it hoped the EPA "will now reconsider other costly and unworkable proposals," including its efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, Clean Air Watch president Frank O’Donnell told the Times that the administration was “running scared” on the ozone plan.
The American Lung Association said it was “gravely disappointed” over the delay, which “leaves in peril the lives and the health of millions of Americans.” The group said it was “exploring legal options to require the EPA to issue a final standard.”
And Sen. Thomas Carper (D., Del.) voiced disappointment, saying the delay would leave "millions of Americans unprotected from harmful ozone air pollution under an outdated, ineffective ozone standard."
Smokestack Regulation Delay
The ozone rule delay was EPA’s second of the week. On Tuesday (Dec. 7), the agency decided to delay another costly, controversial proposed regulation aimed at smokestack industries, saying it needed another year to finish rules aimed at reducing pollution from boilers and solid-waste incinerators.
EPA is under a court order to issue final boiler rules on Jan. 16, 2011. In its motion filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the EPA seeks to extend the schedule to finalize the rules by April 2012.