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IDEM chief choking on EPA's new ozone proposal

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The head of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has asked federal regulators not to approve a proposed stricter standard for ground-level ozone.

Tom Easterly argues the standard would be expensive yet bring a minuscule reduction in death rates.

Easterly, in a letter last month to the Environmental Protection Agency, cited a concern over the lack of scientific process and peer review. The federal agency is considering whether to lower the ozone standard to a range between 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million.

The current level is 0.085 ppm, although the agency in 2008 began phasing in a 0.075 standard.

Easterly, citing the EPA’s own data, argues that a 0.065 ppm ozone standard would save about 3,600 lives per year at an incremental compliance cost of $37.3 billion.

In other words, a fourfold cost increase reduces the U.S. death rate by “less than 0.012 percent,” the letter says.

“The calculated cost per additional life saved of approximately $10.4 million does not keep the person alive forever, but actually extends the life for some undefined period,” Easterly wrote.

The commissioner, who was not available for comment, was not arguing that cost-benefit ratio is more important than human lives, said Scott Deloney, chief of the programs branch of IDEM’s Office of Air Quality.

Rather, Easterly was merely invoking EPA’s own data to make a point that federal regulators have failed to make a compelling case for the proposed lower standard, Deloney added.

That is, cost of compliance is rising fourfold, yet the regulation would reduce death rates by only “a fraction of a fraction of a percent.”

The question is “What is truly necessary to protect the public health?” Deloney said.

Easterly said the EPA is relying on an interpretation of a health study that even its author does not support “and sets a dangerous precedent.”

While the EPA does weigh premature or increased human morbidity from ozone pollution as it assigns monetary values to those outcomes, “I think Easterly’s letter oversimplifies that discussion,” said Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

“There are many other costs factored into this analysis, including health care costs, missed work days, missed school days … that also result from excessive pollution levels,” Maloney said.

Ozone is typically a summertime menace, formed when products of industrial and vehicle emissions such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals are exposed to sunlight and heat.

Ozone is a health risk particularly to those with asthma.

Indiana has achieved compliance with the current 0.085-percent standard.  Most of the state already complies with the 0.075-percent standard proposed in 2008, although Marion County is among four counties statewide not yet in compliance with that level.

Easterly is arguing that the EPA should continue to phase in the 0.075 level, particularly because the proposed 0.060-to-0.070 standard will likely be subject to years of litigation. Court delays arguably would result in further public health implications.

IDEM’s Deloney said it’s unclear what actions would have to be taken in Indiana to comply with the tough proposed standard, in part because the agency doesn’t know how each metro area would be designated.

“We really don’t have a sense for the impact specifically to Indiana,” he said. “Until we have the new implementation rule, we won’t know what will be required for Indianapolis” as well.

Some areas now face tougher compliance hurdles than others. For example, vehicle-emission testing is required in northwestern Indiana, though not in central Indiana. Easterly argues that some of those old measures are no longer necessary, thanks to a new generation of onboard vehicle diagnostic systems and onboard gasoline vapor-recovery canisters.

Complicating matters is that the EPA is in the midst of revising several other air-pollution measures, ranging from fine particulates to sulfur dioxide.

“EPA should provide state and local governments the opportunity to attain the current ozone (national ambient air-quality standards) before imposing further restrictive standards,” Easterly wrote.

If the EPA adopts the strict proposed standard, states would have until December 2013 to file with the agency their plans for compliance.

States could, for example, pull back on what they allow industries to emit into the air. That would have economic implications for industry, which could elect to install additional controls or to take more draconian measures such as closing or moving a facility.

Easterly wants the EPA to place a special emphasis on reducing the background effects of ozone from large urban areas such as Chicago and Houston on downwind states. Some of the Chicago area’s pollutants blow into Indiana and contribute to ozone formation.

“Some of these counties will be arbitrarily labeled as 'nonattainment' and will have no true impact on air quality as they are heavily impacted by ozone transport and interstate travel over which they have very limited control,” Easterly told EPA.

“Being designated as nonattainment adversely impacts communities by making it harder to attract and retain business and industry and sustain economic growth and vitality. “

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  • More to life than death rates
    As a mild asthma suffer, I still suffer the effects at even lower than the new proposed .060 percent standard for ozone, so it is hard to argue that would be worth the effort. There is a lot more to this argument than death rates. With enough medication, I could probably survive in life with much higher levels with enough medication, but how my life would be horrible. What about the quality of life in this argument? I have a hobby as a songwriter and wannabe musical performer, but I cannot sing on days when ozone is high (and I am also including days that are near, but still below ozone alert days levels.). I also suffer from disruption of sleep when I can't breathe at night. My productivity at my day job is affected too by all this. I hang in there, and I am obviously not dead, but quality of life is not being properly accounted for in the benefits and costs.
  • Reality
    Unfortunately, human life is not beyond cost. While it may be sad, it's the reality as people die due to starvation, a lack of medical treatment, etc. on a daily basis. For $10.4M, it would be really easy to save hundreds or thousands of starving people for an extended period of time. I'm not arguing that a person's life is worth less than a specific value, just that we have limited resources and a plethora of problems, so we should prioritize based on value.
  • Economics Can't Answer
    The focus seems to be on the value of human life. If human life is beyond cost, than any expenditure to save one life is worth it. The focus should be that the peer review was either ignored or not competent and that author apparently is running away from the document. If true, it would represent another regulation with no basis in science.
  • Not worth the ROI
    The inspection rules from the past cited by Mr. Barton were just a sham. It was riddled with corruption and presented unscrupulous inspectors the opportunity to offer unsafe vehicles an appoved sticker to anyone with enough money. It was amazing how the amount was always less than it would take to actually repair the car or get it up to standard. And the standards were written so they were open to interpretation further opening the door to corruption.
    Many folks seem to forget increasing regulations always adds unnecessary costs to items while making them either unaffordable or a luxury item to those making lower incomes. And that is to folks who have a job.
    These proposed changes clearly do not show a benficial ROI worth the investment.
    These limits should be established by the states anyway because the Federal Government does not have the constitutional authority to impose these limits on the states in the first place.
  • A lot of money
    Compliance cost of 37.3 billion dollars is a lot of money. That would go a long way toward helping people needing jobs, the homeless, and health care. All these alternatives would improve the health of the public. Hunger and no shelter is a definite health problem.
  • IDEM Chief Cares Little About Our Health!
    It is not surprising that Tom Easterly and the state would oppose this. After all, the state got rid of motor vehicle inspections in 1982. Anyone who drives sees the result of that on a daily basis. Clearly unsafe motor vehicles are on the roads, and many of those are spewing large amounts of smoke. That cannot be healthy for the residents of Indiana. In addition, motor vehicle inspections would help the auto parts industry, a major component of the state's economy and create jobs. It might even help the state achieve the lower ozone goal set by the EPA.

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