Ozone Regulations In 1997 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new ozone standards. The EPA also placed special restrictions on twenty-two states in the Ohio Valley and Midwest regions to prevent emissions from coal-burning power plants from being carried into the New England States by wind currents. (Tennessee is one of these twenty-two states.) Both of these rulings were recently either struck down or placed on hold by Federal Appeals Courts. Why: The regulations put into place in 1997 by the EPA were more restrictive than the 1990 standards. The regulations limit the amount of ground level ozone and fine particle pollution permitted. Ground level ozone is produced by nitrogen oxide(NOx) which is created by burning fossil fuels. Since gasoline and diesel are both fossil fuels, then NOx is a major component of automobile emissions. Several members of the trucking and fossil fuel industries, as well as members of the twenty-two state region, have challenged the regulations in Federal Court and have been successful in blocking the implementation of the new rules. In the past two months, two separate Federal Court Of Appeals panels have ruled that the EPAs authority to establish clean air standards is not properly delegated by Congress under the Clean Air Act.
Therefore, since the EPA is a part of the Executive branch of government and not the Legislative, they have no authority to produce regulations on their own. The plaintiffs in the case also argued that the amount of pollution a person can tolerate has not been established and until it is the EPA should not make the current regulations more restrictive. How: The main actors in this event are the American Trucking Associations and their fellow plaintiffs, the twenty-two state coalition, the EPA, and the Federal Appeals Court. Why would the American Trucking Associations and other fossil fuel burning industries want to limit the EPAs authority? What do they have to gain? Last year, according to the EPAs own press release detailing their enforcement efforts in fiscal year 1998, the EPA referred 266 criminal cases to the Department of Justice, as well as 411 civil court cases. Approximately half of the civil cases required violators to change the way they manage their facilities or to reduce their emissions or discharges. The EPA also assessed almost $93 million dollars in criminal fines and another $92 million in civil penalties. In addition to fines and penalties, polluters spent over $2 billion dollars to correct violations.
Not included in this estimate would be the legal expenses incurred or the advertising and marketing costs required to mend a damaged pubic relations image. Clearly it is in the industries best financial interest if the regulations are less restrictive. Many companies that spent large amounts of money to meet the 1990 Clean Air Act standards would have to spend even more to meet the amended 1997 standards. Do the states in the twenty-two state region have another reason to argue against the standards? According to Sean Cavanaghs article in the April 4, 1999 edition of the Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Atlanta lost $700 million in federal roads money as a result of failing to come up with a pollution containment plan. In addition, the state of Georgia had to fund a state “superagency” to develop and enforce transit plans that meet federal standards.
The states joined the industrial groups in claiming that the new standards are too strict and are unnecessary. Chattanooga is not expected to meet the new requirements by the year 2000 deadline and Chattanooga Mayor Kensey and Tennessee Governor Sundquist were two of the public officials who protested the new standards as being too strict. Are the new standards too strict? How does the EPA determine the required levels? According to the press release issued by the EPA following the courts decision, the Federal Courts are not questioning “the science and process conducted by the EPA justifying the setting of new, more protective standards.” The EPA claims that their standards, which are designed to limit the affects that smog and soot have on people with respiratory problems, protect 125 million Americans including 35 million children. The Federal Courts only have issue with the constitutionality of certain parts of the Clean Air Act that allow the EPA to establish clean air regulations in the interest of public health. The EPA is recommending that the Department of Justice appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court. Several interest groups are closely watching the case. The powerful industrial and truckers lobby groups are supporting the plaintiffs, while several environmental lobby groups and health associations, such as the American Lung Association, are supporting the EPAs efforts.
All interest groups have apparently been relatively quiet so far since the issue is a court case and most are probably afraid of being accused of trying to influence the courts decision. If the issue gets a new life in Congress then obviously the lobbyist will be more active. Opinion: Who gets what, when and how. The EPA is trying to establish new clean air requirements to take effect in the year 2000 by using the public health clause of the Clean Air Act. The plaintiffs are trying to avoid having to spend more money to meet the requirements by 2000 by arguing that the public health clause is unconstitutional.
What is the federal governments stand on the issue. White House press secretary Joe Lockhart claimed that they are “deeply disappointed” by the courts decision. Considering that the liberals are generally supportive of environmental issues this is not surprising, but what about the conservatives? Republicans are usually more protective of business interest. More strict laws on environmental issues will cause fewer new companies to start-up. This would of course have an adverse affect on the economy.
It should be noted that the two judges who voted on the side of the plaintiffs in both of these case were Reagan appointees and therefore probably conservatives. Is it fair for the EPA to impose new strict standards only seven years after instituting sweeping changes in clean air regulations? Many companies are probably still paying for the new programs they implented to help meet the previous standards. Fair or not these standards are probably necessary. Ground level ozone contributes significantly to smog. Smog, according to an editorial by the Chattanooga Times Harry Austin on May 20, 1999,in turn affects not only our health, but also crop and forest loss, acid rain and fog production, and increases regional haze. If there are so many important benefits to reducing ground level ozone then why is the public so silent on the matter? Probably for two reasons.
First, confusion with atmospheric ozone. The ozone surrounding the Earth blocks out radiation from the sun. Ground level ozone traps in fine particles. The hole in the Earths ozone layer makes the evening news. Smog also makes the evening news, but very little is ever said about the contribution made to it by ground level ozone. Many Americans probably just consider more ozone a good thing, but its not if its not in the right place.
Secondly, in an article written by Jeff Dean for the Associated Press a survey was cited that stated that Americans are discouraged by the Earths environmental problems and are beginning to feel there is nothing that can be done, therefore why even worry about it. The EPA is trying to do something about our problems and is meeting with resistance from industrial and transportation groups. If the Supreme Court does not overturn the lower courts ruling and reinstate the new regulations then millions of Americans will continue to suffer the effects of smog. If the court rules the regulations void because they are not properly delegated by Congress then the floodgates will open on lawsuits against numerous such regulations. If an already unproductive Congress is forced to create all of their own regulations then the country will come to a stand still.
If, however, these regulations are created at random without proper Congressional supervision then a main portion of our system of checks and balances will be voided. A compromise must me attained.