Lowering ozone standard could cost Louisiana jobs, economic activity, industry group predicts _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., talks with media at NRG's Big Cajun II power plant after taking a tour and giving a speech to workers and officials on how she opposes new EPA regulations on coal fired power plants on June 9, 2014, in New Roads.

Louisiana stands to lose billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs, and 80 percent of the state’s coal-fired power plants will be forced to shut down if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowers the federal ozone pollution standard, according to a new report from industry.

The National Association of Manufacturers released the report commissioned from the NERA Economic Consulting on Thursday to bolster its argument that a tougher ozone standard would have disastrous impacts on the economy.

“Total compliance costs could measure in the trillions of dollars, and barriers to energy production could severely limit economic growth and hinder the nation’s manufacturing comeback,” according to the report.

In Louisiana, those costs are estimated to be a $53 billion loss in products and services produced annually within the state through 2040, 116,983 fewer jobs or job equivalents each year through 2040, and up to a 32 percent increase in household natural gas prices.

Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the economy in the country, and especially in Louisiana, is starting to rebound from the recession, and companies are gearing up to increase their investments.

“We feel (the ozone standard proposal) is sand being thrown in the gears of that,” Waguespack said. “We think that this is not a good time.”

However, EPA disagrees with that dire prediction.

“The agency has not yet proposed a rule and is still reviewing the available technical information,” said Liz Purchia, EPA’s press secretary.

Because no new standard has been set, any economic analysis would be premature and not based on actual agency actions, she said. Purchia added that this kind of economic harm hasn’t been seen in the past.

“History has proven time and time again we can reduce pollution — and grow the economy at the same time,” she said. “Over the past 40-plus years, we’ve cut air pollution by more than 70 percent, and, in the same time, (gross domestic product) has tripled.”

Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, agreed.

“Communities find it frustrating that, for groups like National Association of Manufacturers, it is always all about money. There is no mention of the increased health risk or increased health costs of living in areas where the ozone levels are too high,” she said. “Some industries are so afraid of change that they promote the myth that you can’t have a good environment and a good economy. Study after study shows that it is just the opposite. The better the environment, the better the economy.”

At issue is a regularly scheduled review of the national standard for ozone air pollution under the Clean Air Act. EPA is set to release a proposed new standard in December. Currently, the ozone standard is set at 75 parts per billion, but a science advisory panel has recommended that it be lowered to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb.

Ozone pollution isn’t released but is, instead, the result of a chemical reaction in the air when other air pollution combines during hot and sunny days. When there is little wind, this produced ozone can accumulate and cause breathing or other health problems.

Although the state meets the 75 ppb standard, proposed lower standards would change that, including for the Baton Rouge area, which has struggled for years to meet the increasingly stricter ozone standards.

Waguespack said for Louisiana, which is going through business expansion, in large part because of low natural gas prices, lower ozone regulations could mean businesses will put their investments into the state on hold. He said it was only April when EPA representatives traveled to Baton Rouge to congratulate the area on meeting the 75 ppb ozone standard and congratulated industry for their efforts.

“It’s the wrong time for Louisiana,” he said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.