Grand Canyon, Yellowstone couldn’t meet toughest proposed air standard, Vitter says

Enacting a tougher federal ozone pollution standard will not only cost money, jobs and federal transportation funding, but could very well be impossible to meet, speakers at a hearing in Baton Rouge said Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., held a field briefing of the Environment and Public Works Committee joined by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., on Tuesday morning to hear from state officials and academics on possible impacts of a lower standard.

The entire state now meets the ozone pollution standard of 75 parts per billion, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to lower that standard. An advisory science panel to EPA recommended earlier this year that 70 ppb might not be low enough and recommended that it be lowered to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb.

A proposed rule should be coming from the EPA in December.

In the meantime, speakers at Tuesday’s hearing said that at the lowest level of 60 ppb, most of the state and country would be considered out of compliance.

“Pristine national parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks would also be out of compliance,” Vitter said in his opening statement.

He cited a study released last week from the National Association of Manufacturers that cautioned that at 60 ppb, Louisiana could stand to lose billions and see fewer jobs as a result.

“Our local manufacturing renaissance would likely ground to a halt,” Vitter said.

Vitter said his concern is that the current standard of 75 ppb hasn’t been in place long enough to allow pollution control measures to show wide-spread results. Those measures should be allowed to work before trying to lower the standard, he said.

Along similar lines, Cassidy said that with the upswing in manufacturing and the well-paying jobs that come with it, this isn’t the time to make business more difficult to grow.

“We should be rolling out the red carpet but instead EPA is rolling out the red tape,” Cassidy said, especially as people struggle to find jobs that can improve their families’ future. “Here we have EPA threatening these better futures.”

He said there are 181 new chemical sector manufacturing projects with an investment of $115.7 billion in the works and of those about a fourth are planned for Louisiana.

“We should be working to make these projects a reality,” he said.

Although not at the hearing, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., issued a statement also in opposition to the EPA proposed regulations.

“While it is important that we continue to test our air quality, we must take extra steps to ensure we are not burdening state and local agencies, and are not imposing billions more in costs on to the back of America’s manufacturing, energy, industrial, and transportation sectors,” she wrote in an email.

State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas said that being in non-attainment would also mean restrictions and difficulties in getting federal transportation money to work on things like Interstate 49.

Although the Baton Rouge area has struggled to meet ozone standards for decades, the rest of the state is unaware of what being declared “non-attainment” with the standard could mean.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has been working with metropolitan areas around the state within the EPA’s Ozone Advance program, to try to avoid being classified as out of compliance with any new standard, but it’s a tough sell.

“It’s really hard working with these other communities that have no idea what’s coming down,” said Michael Vince, senior scientist with DEQ’s air permits division. “I’m asking them to fix a pothole that’s not in the street yet.”

Consequences of being out of attainment can include restrictions on what kinds of industry can come into an area depending on the amount of air emissions credits that are available. Right now, there aren’t many available and that number could shrink even further if more areas of the state are deemed out of compliance, Vince said.

“We have seen first hand the stigma of being in non-attainment,” Vince said, referring to years that the Baton Rouge area didn’t meet the standard.

That changed late last year when the Baton Rouge air monitors showed that they had met the ozone pollution goal two years ahead of schedule.

Vitter asked the speakers about statements made by supporters of a revised ozone standard who have said that industry and politicians made a fuss about it being lowered to 75 ppb and it worked out fine.

EPA and local environmental groups have maintained that lowering the standard hasn’t meant economic hardship in the past and won’t have an impact now.

“History has proven time and time again we can reduce pollution — and grow the economy at the same time,” Liz Purchia, EPA’s press secretary, wrote in an emailed response to the NAM study last week. “Over the past 40+ years, we’ve cut air pollution by more than 70 percent and in the same time GDP has tripled.”

Vitter questioned why it would be different this time.

Vince, with DEQ, said if the new standard is set at 60 ppb, that’s going to be very close to what’s considered background levels, meaning what the air would contain with no cars, industry or other ozone causing pollution.

“We may never be able to get there,” Vince said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.