To begin at the beginning would mean traveling back to 1970 – to an America often cloaked in smoggy, noxious, pain producing air. In an effort to grasp the problems facing America’s air quality, Nixon commissioned photographs to be taken of America’s air (some photos can be seen at: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/12/smog-photos-1970s-america) and congress passed the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act has been reviewed, amended, added to and upheld ever since. A major achievement occurred in 1990 when amendments were added that, “set the stage for protecting the ozone layer, reducing acid rain and toxic pollutants, and improving air quality and visibility” (https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview).
The most recent review and amending of the Clean Air Act occurred in 2015 (quick note, the Clean Air Act requires that every 5 years there is a review and if deemed necessary, an amending of the act – this bill would change that to every 10 years). It is the proposal regarding ozone that came out of the 2015 review that the Senate bill S. 452 Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length Act of 2017, known as the ORDEAL Act, takes issue with and aims to repeal. As of April 2017, this bill is being reviewed in the Committee on Environment and Public Works on which our very own Senator Harris sits.
Before looking at what the ORDEAL Act would do let us look at what the Clean Air Act of 2015 puts forth. In October 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would reduce allowable ground-level ozone limits to 70 ppb from the 75 ppb level set in 2008 (https://www.epa.gov/naaqs/ozone-o3-air-quality-standards).
Ozone (the chemical designation for Ozone is O3) occurs in two places on Earth – far up high in the stratosphere (between six and 30 miles above the Earth’s surface) where it protects us from the sun – and at ground level where it does harm to life (ozone at ground level is a main part of smog). While the Ozone in the stratosphere occurs naturally the ozone at ground level is manmade – it occurs when nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and the sun’s rays interact. Most manmade ozone comes from the emissions of vehicles/engines/factories/power plants and products such as solvents and paints. While this means that ozone is more often created in metropolitan areas, ozone is light and travels far and wide due to wind, meaning ozone impacts everyone. Ozone’s main impact is on the airways, causing inflammation that leads to chest pain, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath even in healthy individuals. Children, those who have lung issues or illnesses (such as asthma), those who spend a lot of time outside and the elderly are regarded as the most at risk for harm from ozone. (All info from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/20151001basicsfs.pdf).
The fact that ozone travels and impacts everyone (as well as all plants, animals, i.e. all life) is exactly why it is regulated by the EPA. The EPA is the agency that is in charge of determining what level – measured in parts per billion, denoted as ppb, (1 ppb is equal to 1 microgram of ozone in a liter of air) of ground level ozone is acceptable. Thankfully the amount of ground level ozone has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s, yet scientific research has shown that the current acceptable level of 75 ppb is too high. The EPA came to this determination by reviewing over 1,000 scientific studies, which show that the short and long term respiratory damage done by ozone is present even at the current record low level of 75 ppb (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/20151001basicsfs.pdf). A quick note on the health impacts of ozone, exposure to ozone is not just about lung irritation, it is strongly linked to asthma and has even been linked to premature death from respiratory causes. For more information on the health impacts of ozone, visit: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/20151001healthfs.pdf.
With this base knowledge of ozone, let us turn to Senate bill S.452, the ORDEAL Act, which has as its stated purpose, “To amend the Clean Air Act to delay the enforcement and implementation of the 2015 national ambient air quality standards for ozone”. This stated purpose implies that the bill only seeks to delay the implementation of the 70 ppb ground level ozone standard, yet the bill actually aims to enable a future EPA Administrator to abolish this standard. With regards to the delay, the bill would delay the implementation of the new standard until 2025. With regards to abolishing this standard, the bill states that, “Not earlier than January 1, 2025, the Administrator shall initiate a new rulemaking to promulgate new national ambient air quality standards for ozone concentrations” (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/452/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22ORDEAL+ACT%22%5D%7D&r=1).
Since emissions as well as solvents and paints are the main components in man-made ground level ozone, these industries would need to impose stricter standards on their ways of doing business in order to meet the 70 ppb. Due to this fact, it will come as no surprise that national associations for these industries support this bill:
- The American Chemistry Council represents roughly 150 companies in North America that are chemical companies/chemical manufacturers and while it is a trade association it also does a lot of lobbying (https://www.americanchemistry.com/About/). The American Chemistry Council spent 9 million dollars in lobbying during 2016 (https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000365). It will also come as no surprise that they support of this bill: “The American Chemistry Council (ACC) … welcomed the… Ozone Regulatory Delay and Extension of Assessment Length (ORDEAL) Act … we urge swift passage by both chambers” (https://www.americanchemistry.com/Media/PressReleasesTranscripts/ACC-news-releases/ACC-Welcomes-Reintroduction-of-Ordeal-Act.html).
- The American Petroleum Institute is a national trade association for America’s oil and natural gas industry, having 625 corporate members from every facet of the industry. Just like any trade association, the American Petroleum Institute does advocacy aka lobbying work. (http://www.api.org/). An American Petroleum Institute official expressed approval of the ORDEAL Act, “”We support the direction of the legislation… to modify the implementation of air-quality requirements, while still protecting public health and the environment,” (http://www.ogj.com/articles/print/volume-115/issue-3b/general-interest/ozone-limits-implementation-reform-bill-reintroduced-in-us-senate.html).
- And though not a trade association for one of these industries, the United States Chamber of Commerce, “has been supportive of legislation in both the House and Senate chambers suspending implementation of the new 70 ppb ozone standard” https://www.uschamber.com/ozone-legislative-solutions.