Monday, November 09, 2015

National parks fail EPA’s latest ozone mandates

By Tori Richards

The EPA’s newest ozone pollution threshold has placed 26 national parks – including such gems as Sequoia and Rocky Mountain – at non-compliant levels, while the rest of the nation’s communities must spend billions conforming to the new normal.

The National Park Service blames power plants for much of the problem, and not wildfires that have blanketed the West or tourism bringing in $15.7 billion per year. But if you ask scientists and officials from California where cars rule supreme, power plants aren’t the issue.

Either way, it’s the states’ problem to figure this out, the National Park Service says. The federal government can’t fine itself, as shown with the disastrous Animas River spill in August.

“States are responsible for implementing the provisions of the Clean Air Act,” said Jeffrey Olson, chief of education and outreach at the National Park Service. “They will eventually have to put plans in place to show how they can come into compliance with violations of the ozone standard.”

On Oct. 1, the ozone pollution standard was lowered from 75 to 70, thrusting 241 counties nationwide onto the non-compliance list. The last time the standard changed was 2008, and 227 counties were not meeting the old threshold. The EPA estimates that compliance with the new standard will cost $1.4 billion annually.

But national parks are among the worst offenders, with one maintaining levels of more than 100 ppb.

The 26 offenders are mainly in the West, with only a handful in the East, where coal-fired power plants dot the landscape.

The biggest violator is Dinosaur National Monument, home to 1,500 dinosaur fossils and a popular white-water rafting destination on the Colorado-Utah border. Its ozone level is 114 ppb. The runner-up at 90 ppb is the 631-square-mile Sequoia National Park in Northern California, a pristine forest boasting 3,200-year-old trees that are among the tallest in the world.

The Grand Canyon? It barely squeaks by at 69 ppb.

In all, 11 states have national parks that are in non-compliance with the new ozone standard:   Arizona,  3; California, 9; Colorado, 2; Connecticut, 3; Illinois, 1; Maine, 1; Massachusetts, 1; Nevada, 1; New Jersey, 2; Pennsylvania, 1; and Utah, 2. Ozone levels are calculated over a three-year period.

“Many issues can contribute to this, especially wildfires,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University.

Critics say that billions in product losses and compliance costs could make this the costliest regulation in history.

“The costs of compliance with this regulation would largely be borne by manufacturers, and the EPA can only identify a little more than a third of the controls we would need to install to comply. It calls the rest ‘unknown controls,’ because it simply cannot tell us what we will have to do,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. “This regulation’s strict mandates will force manufacturers to shut down, scrap or modify existing facilities. This means higher costs for consumers and lost jobs.”

The EPA had considered taking the level as low as 60 ppb before settling on 70.

“You are going to hear horror stories by the EPA that people can’t breathe and that’s why they have these standards,” said Daren Bakst, a research fellow on agricultural policy with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. “A lot of misleading information is out there and one of the myths is poor air quality. It’s actually getting better and is so much cleaner than the 1970s.”

If you ask the EPA, it’s all about public health.

“Put simply – ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable: our kids, our elderly and those suffering from heart and lung ailments,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a press release. “Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people.

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