Smith, whose district includes parts of San Antonio, puts more stock in the warnings about ozone rules’ ripple effects. He contended that the “burdensome permitting and compliance obligations” that come when an area is deemed out of attainment with the standard pose a serious economic problem. The timing is bad, he added. More than 150 counties have ozone levels topping the 2008 standard, which was looser than the EPA’s independent scientific advisory panel had recommended.
“The air we breathe is significantly cleaner and will continue to improve thanks to new technologies,” Smith said. “However, it is premature and unnecessary for the EPA to propose a new standard when we have not yet given states the opportunity to meet the 2008 standard.”
Only one of the five hearing witnesses — the sole health professional — came out in favor of a stricter standard. Dr. Mary B. Rice, a pulmonary critical care physician at the Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said the cost of ozone includes medical bills, hospitalizations, missed work days and premature death.
Another witness, Allen S. Lefohn, president of air-quality consulting firm A.S.L. & Associates in Montana, warned that the amount of ozone communities can’t control — because it comes from elsewhere or is naturally occurring — is particularly high in the West. That could complicate efforts to reduce ozone, he said.
“We could shut everything down in the desert — no industry, no transportation, no housing, no nothing — and we would still have exceedances of the 2008 standard,” said witness Eldon Heaston, who heads two California air quality management districts downwind of the high-ozone Los Angeles region.
Witnesses and committee members also pointed to the EPA’s reliance on as-of-yet unknown pollution control technology in its proposal.
That troubles some air-quality officials, including Heaston, who said “you’re looking into the future with promises of some sort of deposit that you may not be able to withdraw later.” But the American Lung Association, in an earlier interview, said technology typically follows new standards, rather than the other way around.
That’s part of what Congress intended with the Clean Air Act, said Janice Nolen, the group’s assistant vice president of national policy.
“As a result, we have equipment, we have tools, we have systems that would not have existed if we had not had this reason to get cleaner air,” she said.