On My Mind: How Low Can They Go?

For several years, EPA has been trying to lower the allowable level of ozone from 0.12 ppm to 0.08 ppm.

For several years, EPA has been trying to lower the allowable level of ozone from 0.12 ppm to 0.08 ppm. During this time, however, questions have arisen concerning the science and the economics behind EPA's actions.

The Chamber of Commerce, American Trucking Associations, National Association of Manufacturers and others contend that the new air quality standards are based on incomplete or poor science. These groups feel that decreasing the allowable level of ozone will not improve public health. At an automotive finishing conference I attended last fall, an official with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality stated that if the ozone standard was lowered, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan would not be able to comply because the background level of ozone is higher than that in the standard. He claimed that Michigan could eliminate every car on the road and still not be in attainment.

These groups also feel that lowering the standard will place an unnecessary economic burden on industry. If there is no significant improvement of public health from the new standard, why make industry spend billions of dollars to be in compliance? I think it is safe to say we all want clean air, but how far do we need to go? And, at what cost?

Why am I writing about this now? At the end of May, the Supreme Court expanded its review of the dispute over the ozone standard. This fall, the justices will decide whether anti-pollution regulations must take the costs of compliance, not just health effects, into account.

This is a decision that will affect air quality regulations, and other environmental regulations for that matter, nationwide for quite some time. And, it's one that could set a precedent for when EPA tries to lower the standards for other pollutants as well.

Let's face it. The EPA, like any other organization, wants a larger budget every year. To get the larger budget, it must show that it is doing something to protect the environment. To show that it is protecting the environment, EPA lowers the standards for pollutants.

So, let's give a hand to all of those groups that are fighting for industry on this issue. And, it's not too late for you to get involved on this or other environmental issues that affect manufacturing in this country. Otherwise, we might all be saying (cue the limbo music), "How low can they go?"