Ozone overkill

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is joining other states in bringing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its controversial Clean Power Plan.

We’ve supported the plan, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, in part because it conforms to a direction the state was headed anyway while it addresses climate change.

Colorado utilities have plans on the books to invest in renewable energy, improve energy efficiency and transition from coal to cleaner sources of power. That puts Colorado on track to meet 75 percent of the Clean Power Plan’s target reductions of carbon emissions.

But the EPA is now proposing another air-quality standard that seems like regulatory overkill. It wants to tighten the federal ozone standard, which poses huge challenges for Western Slope counties with little reason.

The EPA established the existing ozone standard of 75 parts per billion in 2008, but the implementation regulations were finalized only last month. Before the federal government attempts to lower the standard to 70 or 65 ppb, shouldn’t it give the existing standard a chance to work?

The Clean Power Plan is supposed to help reduce ozone-forming pollution. Let’s see what it can do before dropping the hammer on far-flung Western counties that have little control over ozone levels. Precursor pollutants that cause ozone may originate in another state, Mexico, Canada or China, according to the Western States Air Resources Council. Some ozone is the product of wildfires.

But if the EPA succeeds in moving the goal posts, Mesa, Rio Blanco and Montezuma counties stand to be in “non-attainment” with federal standards, meaning they would have to pony up for compliance costs.

It’s clear why Hickenlooper and Bennet — both supporters of the Clean Power Plan — are pushing back on the EPA’s ozone regulation. Why should Colorado accept even more federal intervention to regulate something that’s already being regulated several times over?

The Center for Regulatory Solutions points to bipartisan concern among state lawmakers. Business and labor groups are also opposed. Club 20 wrote a letter to the EPA warning of “far-reaching consequences throughout Western Colorado on our industries, communities and individuals.”

When is enough federal regulation enough? When a Democratic governor and a Democratic U.S. senator are on the same page with Republicans, you can bet the EPA’s ozone plan goes well beyond that tipping point.

In 2011, President Barack Obama withdrew a similar proposal after an outcry from state and local leaders.

We’re not opposed to regulating ozone. It’s a problem here during our wintertime inversions. But the state has a good history of cleaning the air and we think existing regulations and the Clean Power Plan should be allowed to make a difference before costly additional steps are taken.


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