The Environmental Protection Agency this past week issued draconian new regulations that slash the levels of ozone allowed in ground-level air, posing a particular problem for all of Nevada.
“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy blithely.
The order cuts allowable ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion, for which most states have yet to draw up compliance plans, to either 65 or 70 ppb. The agency is still quibbling over the exact level but already is planning to conduct hearings on whether to cut the allowable level to 60 ppb. (Yes, that’s parts per billion. Think of 1 ppb as the equivalent of one drop of ink in the tanker of the largest gasoline tanker truck.)
While ozone is naturally occurring, much of the ground-level ozone is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels
In order to comply with ozone limits, states will have to create contingency plans under which power plants, manufacturers and agriculture operations must cut back or shut down altogether.
Approximately a third of the country is out of compliance with the cur¬rent standard of 75 ppb and cutting to 60 ppb would leave 95 percent of the country out of compliance.
It is bad enough that much of Nevada’s ozone is blown in on the winds from smog producing California cities, Asian coal-fired power plants and wildfires, but a recent study found that the Great Basin area is the bulls-eye center for something called stratospheric intrusions that bring ozone from the stratosphere down to the surface.
Researchers took readings from a mountain top 30 miles northwest of Las Vegas and found that stratospheric intrusions added at least 30 ppb to the natural ozone level, which is usually 50 to 60 ppb. That pushes the ozone level to at least 80 ppb and violates EPA’s current standard, much less the new, more stringent one.
According to the EPA, Clark County at 77 ppb on average for the past three years already exceeds the current 75 ppb limit. A lower limit would put White Pine County’s 74 ppb over the line. Lyon County at 69 ppb and Washoe at 68 ppb would exceed a 65 ppb limit. Churchill would squeeze under at 56 ppb. But none of the other Nevada counties even have ozone monitoring stations at this time, and thus the impact is unknown.
The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that the ozone rule could cost $270 billion a year — the most expensive regulation in history.
To which McCarthy replies, “Special-interest critics will try to convince you that pollution standards chase away local jobs and businesses, but, in fact, healthy communities attract new businesses, new investment, and new jobs.” Since when is thumb-twiddling a job?
Compliance will mean shutting down or modifying power plants, factories, heavy-duty vehicles, farm equipment, off-road vehicles and passenger cars.
For Nevadans it will cost $23 million more to own and operate vehicles. The Silver State’s gross state product would be reduced by $19 billion and 11,224 jobs a year would be eliminated.
To add insult to injury, the science linking respiratory ailments to ozone levels is widely disputed and unsettled.
Maybe the EPA will next ban people from living in Nevada. That might be the only way to comply with the new rule.
Or maybe the EPA will relent. Don’t hold your breath.