Officials react warily to EPA’s new ozone rule
Nevada leaders reacted cautiously this week to the Environmental Protection Agency’s stricter new limits on smog-causing pollution, with Gov. Brian Sandoval saying the rule could punish the state for circumstances out of its control and environmental and manufacturing groups staking out opposite positions against it.
The EPA’s move Thursday limits ozone pollution to 70 parts per billion, down from 75. Proponents say it will reduce exposure to dangerous pollutants linked to asthma and respiratory illness, preventing thousands of emergency room visits and hundreds of premature deaths each year.
“Stronger air pollution standards are necessary to protect and improve the health of our children, the elderly, and people with lung diseases and asthma,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada. “I applaud the administration for taking the important step to reduce ozone pollution.”
But Sandoval, whose administration more warmly embraced the EPA’s August decision to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, expressed concern over the latest rule. Nevada has few coal-fired plants, and energy officials said complying with the earlier rule won’t be hard, but the ozone requirements could be more onerous because Western states tend to suffer more than their Eastern and Midwestern counterparts with pollution drifting in from elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, the ozone rule released today appears detrimental to certain Nevada counties and may unfairly punish our state based on factors outside of its control,” Sandoval said in a statement on Thursday. “I have asked the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to thoroughly review the final rule but must reserve the option to pursue all avenues available to protect Nevadans from the irreparable harm this decision may potentially cause.”
A NASA study found that background ozone sources — those that originate from elsewhere but end up in a region — generated about 77 percent of the total ozone in northern California and Nevada. Researchers say that leaves little room for locally produced ozone under the new rules.
Wildfires also create extra pollution. Although state officials say the rules allow counties to subtract the pollution from extraordinary events when calculating whether they’re meeting the requirements.
Sandoval and Reid both touted Nevada’s efforts to adopt more clean energy, and Sandoval pointed to a renewable energy accord he signed with Chinese officials in September that could reduce toxins drifting to the state from China. But counties that don’t meet the rules — Clark, White Pine and Washoe are at the greatest risk — would likely have to take steps to reduce emissions from factories and tighten requirements on transportation.
The EPA’s decision has garnered criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Environmental and health groups, including the American Lung Association, had pushed for a stricter standard of 60 parts per billion.
“This new standard is not adequate to protect public health, but it is progress,” said Jane Feldman, chair of Sierra Club’s Nevada Energy Task Force.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledged the intense criticism from all sides but said her job was to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people, not take actions “based on popularity.”
She said the best available clinical data show that 72 parts per billion “is the lowest ozone exposure that causes adverse health effects in healthy, exercising adults,” and said she added an extra margin for vulnerable and sick populations.
Business groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, had lobbied the White House in recent months and spent millions on a TV ad campaign decrying the pending ozone rule as an overreach and a job killer.
“We know that this regulation could have been worse, but it still feels like a punch in the gut,” said Tom Riordan, president and CEO of the Wisconsin-based Neenah Enterprises Inc. and task force leader for the manufacturers group.
Riordan said manufacturers across the country “will be forced to choose between navigating this rule and hiring new workers, between complying with Washington’s mandates and giving raises to their employees.”
Cutting ozone emissions to 70 parts per billion would cost industry about $1.4 billion in 2025, the EPA said, far below benefits estimated at $2.9 billion to $5.9 billion annually.
Aiming to smooth the transition, the EPA plans to give states that have the most ozone up to 2037 to come into compliance.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.