DONALDSONVILLE — Two parishes in the heart of south Louisiana’s industrial corridor along the Mississippi River have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to delay implementing tough, new ozone standards.
The EPA proposed Nov. 25 to lower the ozone benchmark, saying it reviewed a broad body of scientific literature suggesting the shift would improve public health and the environment.
But officials in St. James and Ascension parishes joined other communities and business groups in speaking out against the proposed standard and asked EPA to wait until the agency can gather more information on the impact of an earlier 2008 ozone standard that has not even been fully implemented nationally.
Meeting in historic downtown Donaldsonville a few miles from the briar patch of cranes that is the $2.1 billion expansion of the CF Industries complex, the Ascension Parish Council adopted a resolution to EPA on Thursday, one night after the neighboring council in St. James did the same.
Officials in Ascension, which is riding a wave of jobs and high tax revenues from a series of industrial expansions driven by low natural gas prices, predict dire economic consequences if EPA wins.
Parish President Tommy Martinez said the lower ozone standards would spark broad repercussions across the economy with an impossible-to-meet criteria, crimp federal road money and, most of all, stymie growth in the parish’s industrial base.
“It’s going to make it very, very hard for any new industry to expand, as we see them doing now. It would certainly shut it down, so it’s very, very important we all stand up,” he told the council.
Ascension Parish Councilman Randy Clouatre, who brought the resolution from a recent Police Jury Association of Louisiana conference, likened the standards to proposed flood insurance changes coastal leaders blunted a few years ago.
“I agree with the parish president that some of the things that we see come out of Washington, D.C., comes out unscathed without the effects being known,” Clouatre said.
Michelle Octave, St. James chief administrative officer, pointed to a National Association of Manufacturers study from July that found the standards would cost Louisiana $189 billion over 20 years.
Both council resolutions also ask Louisiana’s congressional delegation to create a program allowing areas with cleaner air to trade offsets with areas trying to gain attainment under the ozone standard.
One complaint from parish officials is that EPA seems to keep moving the target, as Ascension, and the rest of metro Baton Rouge, are only recently coming out of nonattainment from the 2008 standard but face being placed back in it by the new rule. St. James is in attainment, but Octave said the new standard would push it out of attainment.
EPA has proposed new standards that would lower ozone attainment from 75 parts per billion to 70 or 65 ppb.
Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides from industry, vehicle traffic and other sources combine in the air during hot, sunny days.
EPA says health benefits from the new standard would save $6.4 billion to $38 billion annually by 2025.
Enesta Jones, EPA spokeswoman, said the public comment period ends March 17, and the EPA will be happy to accept the parish resolutions as public comment.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.