The Metro Council will consider on Wednesday taking a stand against the federal government’s plans to toughen ozone air pollution standards, making them lower and harder for the parish to meet.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso plans to introduce a resolution that, if approved, will show the Metro Council’s opposition to plans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lower the ozone air pollution standard.
Working with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Amoroso said that the more he learned about the potential impacts of a tougher ozone standard, which is expected to be proposed by the EPA in December, the more concerned he became.
“It would knock Baton Rouge out of compliance again,” he said. “If these new, lower standards went in, it would literally put the brakes on economic development.”
Iain Vasey, executive director of business development with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, agreed.
“It’s one of the greatest economic challenges that faces the state at this time,” he said.
The five-parish area around Baton Rouge has struggled to meet the federal ozone pollution standard for decades. The area met the most recent standard earlier this year.
However, based on recommendations from a science advisory board, EPA is expected to propose the updated and likely tougher standard. Depending on how low the standard is set, Baton Rouge could be joined by a few other cities or a large portion of the state in being out of compliance.
The standard is now 75 parts per billion, but it could be lowered to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb.
Amoroso said his concern comes from studies that show a loss of jobs and economic development if the standard is lowered again. It’s even questionable, he said, whether significantly lower standards can even be met, given naturally occurring ozone and existing pollution control technology.
Environmental groups disagree, saying there’s little potential for an economic downturn if the acceptable ozone level is lowered to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb. The groups also maintain it’s an ongoing myth that the choice has to be between the environment and the economy.
“Since I started this work almost three decades ago, industry claims that new environmental regulations will put thousands of people out of work, but it never happens,” Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, wrote in an email. “In fact, studies show that having a clean environment promotes a strong economy.”
What is also ignored by many is the cost of dealing with health problems such as asthma that are made worse with high ozone levels, she said.
“I find it astonishing that Councilman Amoroso would choose money over the health and quality of life of his constituents in his district. Picking profit over people makes our state an unattractive place for people to want to invest in or raise a family,” she wrote.
She said LEAN would be writing a letter to the Metro Council about the proposed resolution.
Ozone is not released directly into the air. Instead, it is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides from industry, cars and other sources combine in the air during hot and sunny days. When there is little wind, this ozone can cause breathing difficulties or other health problems, especially for vulnerable populations.
Since ozone is formed from other components, the answer to reducing ozone pollution comes from reducing the amount of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides released.
The emphasis has been on industrial sources, but it is getting more and more difficult for industries to find areas where large reductions can be made.
If Amoroso’s resolution is approved, it will show the Metro Council’s support for at least one idea of how to generate reductions: emission reduction credits. These emission reduction credits are needed for any plant expansions, which is a major issue as the oil and gas boom continues to fuel growth.
Under the Clean Air Act, any facility that wants to expand and will emit ozone-forming pollution has to have plans to reduce more than that amount in order to build. For example, if an industry wants to build a facility that releases 100 tons of volatile organic compounds, that industry needs to find 110 tons in reductions.
The problem has been that there are very few of these credits for volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides left in the credit bank managed through the state Department of Environmental Quality. Those industries that do hold credits in the bank aren’t letting them go easily in case future expansion is needed at their own facilities.
The possibility of lower ozone standards doesn’t just affect the five-parish area around Baton Rouge, Vasey said. A lowered standard means other places in the state will be out of compliance as well and face similar dilemmas.
If investments in Louisiana communities from well-paying, industrial facilities is going to continue, there has to be solutions found to the question of ozone and ozone standards, Vasey said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.