Arizona Chamber says EPA ozone rule may hurt economy

New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency would mean most of Arizona would not meet federal ozone limits, a situation Arizona business leaders said would harm economic development but the EPA said is necessary to public health.

Maricopa County, the state’s largest and most urban area, along with Cochise, Coconino, Gila, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma counties would all be pushed into unattainment status under the new regulations, according to EPA documents.

Arizona business leaders projected dire consequences.

Garrick Taylor, of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a news conference call that counties may have to place bans on construction, bans on business expansion, deny permits for highway and road projects, designate “no-drive days” and make other adjustments in order to meet the new ozone standards.

Ultimately the requirements will lead to job loss and will stunt economic growth, said Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communications for the chamber.

Ross Eisenberg of the National Association of Manufacturers said in the conference call the stricter ozone rule will make it harder for state manufacturers to compete.

The new EPA rule, established in October, lowers the permitted ozone level to 70 parts per billion from the previous standard of 75 parts per billion. The ozone level in Maricopa County is 80 parts per billion.

Ozone air pollution is especially harmful to young children, older adults, and people who have lung diseases or asthma, according to the EPA. Ozone is also harmful to trees and other plants. Recent studies from the EPA have determined that ozone levels higher than 70 parts per billion can cause respiratory problems including difficulty breathing, inflamed airways and asthma.

According to projections from the EPA, most U.S. counties should be able to meet the standards by 2025.

Timothy Franquist, deputy director of the air quality division at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said Maricopa County and Yuma County, because it borders pollutant-heavy California, are the only counties that will struggle to reach the EPA ozone standards by the deadline.

Opponents’ primary concern with the requirements surrounds what the EPA calls “background ozone,” or ground-level ozone. Background ozone is formed through complex chemical reactions. According to the EPA, emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of the chemicals that produce background ozone.

Background ozone accounts for 50 percent or more of the ozone levels in the nine Ariz. counties currently exceeding the ozone standard, according to EPA estimates. In Cochise, Coconino and Yavapai counties, the EPA says 85 percent or more of the ozone present in their air is background ozone.

Business leaders are worried that the EPA will not adequately account for the presence of background ozone in many counties, and that those counties will be penalized for something they cannot control or prevent.

“If the EPA doesn’t account adequately for background ozone when implementing these new standards, we’re simply going to be unfairly punished in Arizona,” Taylor said.

The last time the ozone level standards were lowered was in 2008, and some counties across the U.S. are still struggling to meet the 75 parts per billion standard, according to EPA documents.

“Going forward, the focus is really on implementation and attainment,” Roger McClellan, a past chair of an EPA clean air committee. “These are national standards established by the EPA with the states having responsibility for implementing and attaining these standards.”

States are required to develop implementation plans to describe how they plan to meet the new standards. States have three years to meet compliance requirements to avoid unattainment status, McClellan said.

Franquist said there is currently no data on how much it will cost the state to meet these new regulations, but there will be a substantial cost to industries in the state.

“Industry is a very small portion of the sources of ozone, but at the same time, those are the ones that we can traditionally control,” Franquist said. “So they are going to bear the hit.”