New Ozone Standard More About Politics Than Science

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it is once again proposing to lower the ozone standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion from the current standard of 75 parts per billion it established during the George W. Bush administration. This would be the third time the ozone standard has been lowered since the Clinton administration lowered it to 84 parts per billion in 1997. This is more of a political decision than a scientific one.

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One part per billion is equivalent to one second in 33 years. There is not a bright line standard for ozone - a threshold number where there is a health threat above that level and no health threat below that number. Sensitive people, such as those with asthma, are more sensitive to higher levels of ozone than are the general population. Setting the standard becomes more of an issue of risk toleration than hard science.

It is not surprising that the Obama administration would choose a very strict standard. Environmental groups, a key constituency of the Democratic Party, were critical of the Bush administration for not adopting a lower standard.  

In any event, lowering the ozone standard may have less to do with smog and more to do with a backdoor approach to lowering CO2 emissions, which would address the Obama administration's priority of fighting so-called global warming. A stringent ozone standard makes it increasingly difficult to use coal to generate electricity, thereby making alternative energy sources more attractive.

The cost of complying with a lower ozone standard is immense. EPA estimates vary from $19 billion to $90 billion. A blanket requirement also is unfair to counties in west Michigan that have very little heavy industry but still can be found in non-compliance with these standards, which I addressed nearly two years ago.

More important than the cost of compliance is the potential loss of American jobs. A stricter ozone standard will render America less competitive in attracting and keeping jobs, especially in manufacturing where the nation and Michigan in particular have suffered heavy job losses.

Once again environmental ideology trumps the economy and job creation. Common sense would indicate that being without a job poses a greater risk for most Americans than smog that may occur a few days in the summer.