Stricter Standards For Ozone Levels?

Congress continues examining impact of proposed new EPA regulations.


The U.S. Congress continues its oversight responsibility of the Obama Administration’s proposed update of air quality standards for ground-level ozone. The Clean Air Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) every five years. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held multiple hearings on the proposed standards and recently the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as the key witness.

U.S. Senate committees also have held hearings to review the proposed standards. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has introduced legislation, S.640 – the Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length Act (ORDEAL) – that addresses the proposal. Other related bills also have been introduced.


The EPA-proposed changes to the current 2008 standards include strengthening the ozone air quality standards. Issued Nov. 25, 2014, the proposed regulations would tighten the level of the ozone NAAQS from its current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a level between 65 and 70 ppb. In addition, the EPA received comments on levels for the health standards as low as 60 ppb. McCarthy testified that the EPA would issue a final ruling by Oct. 1, 2015.

Ozone levels have dropped by a third since 1980. According to the EPA, levels declined 18 percent from 2000 to 2013. Ninety percent of areas designated as non-attainment for the 1997 ozone standard now meet that standard.

What was the EPA’s rationale for the new proposal? According to the EPA:

• The proposal is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence and would update both the primary ozone standard, to protect public health, and the secondary standard, to protect public welfare.
• Ozone, a key component of smog, forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun. Emissions from sources such as cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and products such as solvents and paints are among the major man-made sources of ozone-forming emissions.
• People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include children, people with asthma and other respiratory diseases, older adults and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. An estimated 25.9 million people have asthma in the United States, including almost 7.1 million children. Asthma disproportionately affects children, families with lower incomes and minorities, including Puerto Ricans, Native Americans/Alaska Natives and African-Americans.
• The EPA estimates that meeting the standards will yield significant health benefits valued at $6.4 billion to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 billion to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb, nationwide, excluding California. These benefits include the value of avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects. The EPA analyzed the benefits and costs for California separately, because a number of areas in California would have longer to meet the proposed standards. Benefits of meeting the proposed standards in California add to the nationwide benefits after 2025, with values estimated at $1.1 billion to $2 billion annually after 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $2.2 billion to $4.1 billion for a standard of 65 ppb.
• Existing and proposed federal rules, including the final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the final Tier 3 Vehicle Emissions and Fuels Standards, requirements to reduce the interstate transport of ozone, Regional Haze rules and the proposed Clean Power Plan, will help states meet the proposed standards by making significant strides toward reducing ozone-forming pollution. EPA projections show the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the proposed standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or under way.
• While states ultimately decide which measures to implement to meet a standard, the EPA has developed illustrative measures to estimate costs. Those estimates are $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb, nationwide, except for California. Estimated costs in California, post-2025, are $800 million for a standard of 70 ppb and $1.6 billion for a standard of 65 ppb.

The latest House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing focused on the EPA overreaching through its regulatory process – specifically that the ozone proposed regulation would cost up to $15 billion annually, according to the EPA impact analyses. The Committee also noted that stakeholder groups believe the EPA underestimated these costs.

The Committee chairman, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, questioned the “regulatory overreach” in his opening statement:


“EPA also seeks to impose stricter ozone standards. Once again, this comes with few benefits. In fact, EPA’s own figures show that since 1980, ozone levels have decreased by 33 percent. And today’s air quality will continue to improve with the expected development of practical new technologies. Last week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that is an important step toward reining in the extreme actions of the EPA. It ruled that the EPA must consider the costs of its decisions and weigh those costs against any potential benefits. For two years, the Committee requested the voluntary production of the data EPA uses to justify Clean Air Act regulations. The EPA’s refusal to provide the data led the Science Committee to issue its first subpoena in 21 years to retrieve that information.”

McCarthy testified about her reasons for signing off on the proposed ozone standard:

“Based on the law, a thorough review of the science, the recommendations of the agency’s independent scientific advisers and the assessment of EPA scientists and technical experts, my judgment was that the current standard of 75 parts per billion is not adequate to protect the public health. In November 2014, the EPA proposed to strengthen the standard to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion to better protect Americans’ health and welfare. We invited comments on all aspects of the proposal, including on alternative levels as low as 60 parts per billion, and acknowledged interest among some stakeholders in offering comment on retaining the existing standard. The Agency is currently reviewing the comments we received, and we will issue a final rule by Oct. 1, 2015.”

The Automotive Service Association (ASA) has held meetings with the EPA at its National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., and on Capitol Hill regarding the proposed new standard. In addition, ASA has discussed the proposal with state air quality representatives concerning the impact these new standards could have on state implementation plans and vehicle emissions and inspection programs. The keynote speaker at ASA’s NACE | CARS Service Repair Leadership Forum, Nick Positano, discussed the future of emissions Inspection and Maintenance Programs (I/M) and the impact this new ozone standard could have on I/M programs.

To review the EPA’s proposed ozone standard and related information, please go to ASA’s legislative website: