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Proposed ozone rules are 'irresponsible'

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone distorts the need for balance between environmental progress and economic growth.

While we have always stood in favor of cleaner air, the proposal to lower the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) could be the most expensive regulation in history and place undue burden on counties still working to comply with existing obligations, as well as impose costly regulations on new communities. EPA has proposed to set the standard between 65 and 70ppb and is taking comment on 60ppb. Should the standard be lowered to 60ppb, nearly the entire nation could be out of ozone compliance (or in "nonattainment") for the first time ever.

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The Obama administration's aggressive push for swift changes to this rule is predicated on the health benefits of reduced ozone, or smog. However, many of these benefits will result from the reduction of other criteria pollutants, not ozone, which are already subject to other EPA regulations. Moreover, the 2008 standard of 75ppb is yet to be fully implemented; benefits continue to be achieved as the remaining 227 counties in nonattainment work to meet the standard.

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Setting a new standard at this time is impractical and irresponsible, and both sides of the aisle agree. Kentucky's democrat Gov. Steven Beshear, who, incidentally, has proposed one of the most stringent state caps on carbon dioxide, has even written President Obama asking for withdrawal of the proposed ozone rule.

Our nation has made great strides in cleaning up the air we breathe. Air-pollution levels are at an all-time low. But 40 percent of Americans currently live in areas that haven't met the current ozone standard. By lowering the standard to 65ppb, EPA would then place 67 percent of U.S. land in nonattainment. Many of these areas, like Yellowstone National Park or high-elevation communities, have high levels of naturally occurring ozone, making them unable to comply with a lower standard.

While EPA is precluded from considering costs in setting a standard, the sheer economic magnitude of this rule is unprecedented and cannot be brushed under the rug. Even President Obama recognized this in 2011 when he pulled the plug mid-review on an attempt to similarly lower the ozone standard due to the "regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty" it would impose on our country.


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As a direct result of restricting the ozone standard to even 65ppb, most of the country will experience tremendous hardship through slower growth and job contractions. Lowering the standard could cut the GDP by $140 billion per year, topping $1.7 trillion by the time it is fully implemented. This would come at the steep cost of 1.4 million fewer jobs and an average drop in household consumption of $830 each year, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

In an effort to try to show how easily the country will meet a lower standard, EPA uses a sleight of hand to obfuscate the true cost of compliance. The agency relies heavily on proposed regulations like the Clean Power Plan and tailpipe emission regulations that won't be fully in effect for years to come. EPA's proposal also essentially exempts California from meeting national air quality rules, further underestimating the true cost of compliance. California is the only state given until 2032 to comply.

The Obama administration needs to withdraw its proposed standard and simply allow the current law to be fully implemented. Emissions would still go down another 36 percent from where they are now, and we could avoid all of these unnecessary burdens.

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That is why we support the Clean Air, Strong Economies (CASE) Act, which is being introduced today. This bipartisan legislation would require 85 percent of the counties currently in nonattainment to first achieve compliance with the existing 75ppb ozone standard before EPA can impose a stricter regulation. This threshold would force EPA to focus on the worst areas of smog concentration before expanding these regulations to other rural and urban areas across the country.

The CASE Act would also require EPA to consider the costs and feasibility of a lower standard, which it currently does not consider. The act would also prohibit EPA from using unreliable modeling to expand nonattainment areas to hundreds of rural counties that otherwise would not be impacted by the expensive regulation.

At a time when our economy is seeking to turn the corner, we must pursue every opportunity to create jobs and strengthen American industry. A lower ozone standard would abruptly halt any such progress in many parts of the country and impose expensive and restricting compliance costs in nearly every state. As we pursue passage of the CASE Act, we urge the Obama administration to again withdraw its misguided proposal to lower the ozone standard.

Commentary by Sens. Jim Inhofe and John Thune. Inhofe is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Thune is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, as well as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Follow them on Twitter @jiminhofe and @johnthune.