House passes bill delaying Obama-era EPA ozone rules

[Source: Law360] The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a measure to delay new U. S. Environmental Protection Agency rules on baseline ozone standards, as President Donald Trump’s administration looks to give states the flexibility to set their own rules.

The Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, passed on a largely party line 229-199 vote, would delay until 2025 the agency’s 2015 standards, which were set to go into effect this year. Republican backers of the bill stated that the delay is needed to meet a standard of the EPA’s latest update to ground level ozone limits, and Democrats complained the measure would allow industry to avoid rules that the EPA knows would help public health.

The bill’s main backer on the floor, Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said that the measure would help bring power back to communities and keep industries from being crippled by new unattainable standards in the agency’s latest Clean Air Act review.

“This common sense bill is about listening to our job creators back home. This is about letting local leaders decide on air rules that work,” Olson said.

Olson’s bill would allow the compliance date for the new 70 parts per billion standard to lapse until 2025, and allow the administrator to consider technological and economic feasibility when considering new air quality rules. The bill would also place new limits on sanctions and fees levied under the Clean Air Act if a state or locality does not comply with the new limits, such as pollution that entered from outside of the area that doesn’t meet the standard.

Democrats on the floor called the measure the “Smoky Skies Act,” and claimed that it would lead to increased public health costs for illnesses such as asthma that studies have shown are worsened by heightened levels of ozone.

“Protecting health and growing the economy are not mutually exclusive,” Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said, pointing out that the Clean Air Act’s protections are supposed to be based on community health.

“Delaying the EPA’s more protective health standards would only prevent these Americans from getting these protections.”

Unable to block the bill, Democrats tried to add about a half dozen amendments to the measure, ranging from allowing a scientific committee veto of the delay to allowing more funding to implement local compliance plans. All of them were voted down by Republicans.

State attorneys general have also come out against the legislation. More than two dozen Democratic attorneys general came out against the bill earlier this year, calling on the House to halt consideration of a measure that would “undermine the mandate in the Clean Air Act that the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and other criteria pollutants be based on up-to-date scientific evidence and focus solely on protecting public health and welfare,” in a letter to lawmakers.

In releasing the new standards, the agency claimed it would save at least $2.9 billion in annual health care costs, at the cost of $1.4 billion to comply with the rules.

Since the passage of the new standards in 2015, the oil and gas industry in particular has lobbied against the new lower threshold — brought from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion following a seven-year scientific review — with the American Petroleum Institute calling the new rules “the most expensive ever” to comply with.

In letters to the agency and to Congress, the industry has said that the new rules would cost billions to comply with, with no scientific backing.

A counterpart bill in the Senate is currently in the Environment and Public Works Committee, but has not been voted on.

Source: Law360
July 18, 2017