For the first time in 40 years, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for 2014 fell while the world economy grew. That statistic from the International Energy Agency (IEA) isn’t the only good news. U.S. carbon emissions are near 20-year lows — with increased natural gas use responsible for 62 percent of all CO2 savings since 2005. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says ozone levels have fallen 33 percent since 1980 and 18 percent since 2000.
Significant progress in reducing ozone makes it all the more perplexing that the Obama administration would propose stringent new ozone standards now.
Regulations enacted in 2008 — then the strictest in history — haven’t even been fully implemented. Yet they’re clearly effective and will continue to reduce ozone levels even more as implementation continues.
What’s the harm in further ratcheting up the standards? Additional ozone regulations could deal a major blow to America’s still-recovering economy by potentially restricting virtually any economic activity in some areas. New regulations could cost $270 billion per year and put millions of jobs at risk, according to a study from the National Association of Manufacturers. The entire state of Delaware risks being deemed out of compliance, potentially costing the state economy $12 billion and almost 6,000 jobs per year from 2017 to 2040.
The problem is that standards could end up close to or even below naturally occurring background levels of ozone. The current standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb).
Compare that to pristine Yellowstone National Park, which has ozone levels of 66 ppb, and it becomes clear just how unrealistic and economically damaging it could be to lower the standards to 65–70 ppb. That’s the primary range EPA is considering, but they’re also exploring the possibility of going all the way to 60 ppb.
Even rural and undeveloped areas could be hard-pressed to meet those levels. Restricting the standard to 60 ppb would place the communities of 94 percent of the U.S. population out of compliance. At 65 ppb, 45 of the lower 48 states would have areas deemed out of compliance.
That means states could be required to place new restrictions on businesses and add even more bureaucratic red tape to the permitting process for public-works projects like infrastructure improvements. In some cases, new development simply may not be feasible or permitted.
From building highways and hospitals to manufacturing, any activity that produces emissions could be subject to constraints. So could energy development, which has been one of the most reliable job creators during the economic recovery. Paying an average salary seven times higher than the minimum wage and adding to middle-class families.
New regulations may provide little to no health improvements, but it’s certain they could impose burdens our economy doesn’t need. To protect public health without jeopardizing jobs and economic growth, the Obama administration should keep the current — effective — ozone standards in place. ♦