An unfair standard
When major newspapers in Denver and Salt Lake City take similar positions on the punitive nature of the federal government’s new ozone standard, we pay attention.
Why? Because, smack in the middle of these two western metro areas is Grand Junction and our air quality flirts with noncompliance because of background ozone, just like theirs does, but it’s a problem even farther beyond our reach.
Air quality groups have appeared before The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board supporting more stringent standards to address ozone pollution, and with good reason. Anyone who’s experienced a winter inversion can see with their own eyes the extent of the problem.
But as the Deseret News and the Denver Post both noted, background ozone blows in from other places. That’s little consolation for those suffering from respiratory challenges, but the fact remains that precursor pollutants that cause ozone may originate in California, Mexico, Canada or as far away as China, according to the Western States Air Resources Council. Some ozone is the product of wildfires.
So lowering the federal ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb effectively punishes western states — which have higher background ozone levels than other regions — for pollution not caused here.
The Post pointed to a Denver Business Journal story that cited an EPA white paper issued in late December indicating Denver will be out of compliance with the new standard 10 years from now.
“This is setting us up to fail,” said Colorado state Sen. Cheri Jahn. “When it’s already known that Colorado can’t make it, then is the goal to help states become more ozone-friendly? Or is it to punish them?”
The metro areas are facing scenarios in which businesses will have to cut back on activity and growth — something Ray Keating, the chief economist for the Center for Regulatory Solutions, calls “a federal cap on economic development.”
In the run-up to the new standard, the Center for Regulatory Solutions pointed to bipartisan concern among Colorado lawmakers. Business and labor groups were also opposed. Club 20 wrote a letter to the EPA warning of “far-reaching consequences throughout Western Colorado on our industries, communities and individuals.”
If Mesa County is found to be in “non-attainment” with federal standards, it would have to pony up for compliance costs. Paying a heavy price for other people’s pollution is exactly why we hear so much grumbling about federal overreach.
The EPA should halt the implementation of the 70 ppb standard until the agency can assure state and local officials in the West that the background ozone issue is fully understood, and that communities won’t be unfairly blamed for pollution they didn’t cause. It should have done so before deciding to ratchet down the standard to 70 ppb. Then again, if the background ozone issue had received the attention it deserved last year, EPA might have been forced to leave the 75 ppb standard in place.