The new ozone standard: An environmental impossibility

Glenn Hamer

June 22, 2016

WASHINGTON – I’m on Capitol Hill today preparing to testify later this afternoon before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. The subject is the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone and legislation – S. 2072 and S. 2882 – that would delay its implementation or give states the opportunity to at least address state-specific issues with its implementation.

The Chamber supports S. 2882, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016, which Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have cosponsored. The bill delays implementation of the new standard for 10 years; this is necessary at a minimum given the impossibility of meeting the standard under the current implementation schedule.

The ozone standard doesn’t work for Arizona or much of the West. The standard is impossible to meet. The majority of Arizona’s 15 counties will likely be out of compliance.

In fact, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is leading a multistate lawsuit with attorneys general from nine other states against the EPA over the ozone rule. General Brnovich correctly said back in October when the rule was finalized that, “The new rule completely ignores Congress’ intent that the EPA set ozone levels for the states that are actually attainable.”

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera was here in Washington in April citing his department’s opposition to the standard and why Arizona is uniquely affected by it. He cited the example of Yuma County, which is bordered by California and Mexico. Its geographic position combined with the naturally occuring sources within the county make compliance impossible. “No matter how many local emissions reductions are achieved, Yuma County simply will not be able to achieve compliance with the new standard,” Director Cabrera said.

In March, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons and I looked at the impact of the new standard and its negative effects on Arizona.

Below I’ve included the remarks I’ll deliver. Watch our Twitter feed or the webcast for more from today’s hearing.

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Thank you Madame Chair, Ranking Member Carper, and members.

My name is Glenn Hamer and I am the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We are the leading statewide business advocate in Arizona.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify here this afternoon about the economic impact to Arizona and other western states of the EPA’s new standard for ground-level ozone.

I have also submitted for the record a written statement, along with a copy of the latest paper by the Arizona Chamber Foundation and Prosper Foundation titled “A Clear and Present Danger: How the EPA’s New Ozone Regulations Threaten Arizona’s Economy,” which provides a comprehensive examination of the issue.

I want to first thank the Chairwoman for her extraordinary leadership in sponsoring Senate Bill 2882. This is possibly the most important bill in the Congress right now for the state of Arizona. The Arizona Chamber agrees that delaying the implementation of the 70 parts per billion standard is necessary, at the very least, because it relieves the immediate burden of complying with it. We also appreciate the great work of Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich in bringing a challenge to the rule in federal court along with nine other states.

The economic impact of the new one-size-fits-all national standard on Arizona and other Western states is significant. The 70 parts per billion standard will be virtually impossible for Arizona to meet because of our unique location in the Southwestern region of the United States and because the primary sources of Arizona’s ozone precursors are outside our state’s control.

Protecting Arizona’s air quality is of utmost importance to those of us in Arizona, and our state’s businesses and regulators have been working diligently to reduce our emissions so that all Arizonans enjoy healthy air. This is especially important in Arizona, where a significant portion of our economy relies on tourism—people want to visit Arizona because of our beautiful environment. This is real for us.

But the imposition of this new standard will unfairly punish Arizona for ozone we cannot control.

First, Arizona’s number one source of nitrogen oxide emissions is cars. Our state’s location as a border state to Mexico and a gateway to Southern California means that Arizona’s highways are heavily traveled. Yet because vehicle emissions are regulated at the federal level, any possible reductions are entirely in the hands of federal regulators responsible for setting vehicle emission standards. This says nothing of the cars crossing into Arizona from Mexico that aren’t even regulated by the United States government. In other words, Arizona’s most effective strategy for reducing our ozone is wholly outside our control.

Second, Arizona has incredibly high levels of biogenic, or naturally occurring, background ozone. With our state’s vast ponderosa pine forest and high incidence of wildfires and lightning, biogenic ozone emissions account for 43 percent of Arizona’s volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. In fact, Arizona currently has four active wildfires burning around the state, all contributing to our VOC emissions.

Major industrial sources only account for a mere 2 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions in Arizona’s largest and most populous county, and just 1 percent of that county’s VOC emissions.

Third, Arizona receives a significant amount of ozone from California. This cross-border transmission is also referred to as “interstate transport.” The EPA does not permit exclusions for interstate transport, so even if our state’s Department of Environmental Quality proved that this ozone originated in California, which is a complicated and expensive process, Arizona is still being penalized for ozone we didn’t create.

Fourth, Arizona receives significant “international transport” from Mexico, Canada, and Asia. But because of the EPA’s rules, even if Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality proved—at great cost—that Arizona would be in attainment “but for” the internationally transported ozone from Mexico and Asia, we would still be put into nonattainment status.

Finally, almost 70 percent of the land in Arizona is tribal land or controlled and managed by the federal government, yet we are still held responsible for emissions originating there.

Simply put, although Arizona has been making great strides toward the 75 parts per billion standard, we cannot implement a 70 parts per billion standard.

Nine of the ten Arizona counties in which ozone is measured run the risk of being in nonattainment with the new 70 parts per billion standard. In Yuma County, a rural county bordering both Mexico and California, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera recently testified before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommitte that “no matter how many local emission reductions are achieved, Yuma County simply will not be able to comply with the new standard.” This is a predominantly agricultural county that contains a few small towns and the city of Yuma, which has a population of 100,000 residents.

Stakeholders from Arizona and other western states raised these during the EPA’s rulemaking process, but the EPA has not adequately addressed them. It is regrettable that we are having to raise these same issues again now, when the EPA had the opportunity to deal with them before finalizing the rule.

The penalties for nonattainment have drastic economic consequences: existing Arizona businesses and companies interested in expanding in the state will be unable to secure necessary permits and face limitations or outright bans on construction, and our state’s federal highway dollars could be compromised.

With respect to Senate Bill 2072, the Arizona Chamber is appreciative of the work being done on this issue by Senators Hatch and McCaskill. On the issue of ozone, however, we believe federal regulators must be held accountable for doing their part. This isn’t simply an issue of states needing more flexibility to comply with a rigid national standard; rather, it’s an issue of federal regulators failing to recognize the unique characteristics of the various regions across the United States when setting the standard.

The issue for Arizona and other Western states is not feasibility of implementation; it is impossibility. Indeed, implementation of this rule in its current form is not reasonable, based in sound science, or achievable.

I want to thank the Chairwoman of the Subcommittee for having me here today. And I want to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers for their leadership nationally on this issue. The Arizona Chamber is committed to working with Senators Flake and McCain and any member of this Committee to continue to ensure the quality of our nation’s air without unnecessarily shutting down economic activity in an entire region of this country.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry