Proposed EPA ozone rule could crimp Mississippi’s economy


ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Coal-fired power plants like Mississippi Power’s Plant Daniel in Jackson County could be an endangered species under new EPA regulations proposed by the Obama administration.

By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog

New EPA regulations meant to help children and people with lung disease could cost Mississippi.

A proposed rule on the ozone — a major component of smog caused by the interaction of sunlight with oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds — would reduce the present standard of 75 parts per million to 70 — or even 65 — under the Clean Air Act.

Those rules could affect the Magnolia State, as would a proposed rule on carbon emissions from power plants.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 358 counties in the U.S. violate the 70 parts per million standard, and an additional 200 violate the 65 parts per million threshold. In Mississippi, only rural Bolivar County in the Delta would be in non attainment — with the 70 parts per million standard. If the standard fell to 65 parts per million, all three coast counties — Jackson, Harrison and Hancock — would be added to the list, along with Hinds County and DeSoto County in the Memphis metropolitan area.

NON-COMPLIANCE: Several counties in Mississippi would be out of compliance with new EPA regulations on ground level ozone. Counties in dark blue would be out of attainment with the 70 parts per million standard. Counties in light blue would be out of attainment with a 65 parts per million standard.

Areas found in nonattainment — which can be for other pollutants such as particulates, as well as ozone — are more heavily regulated than others. Industrial facilities will be required to add more stringent pollution controls, limit production or find reductions in emissions by offsets — reductions in emissions to compensate for emissions elsewhere.

New facilities would be subject to a stricter permitting process, and emissions tests for cars and trucks may be required.

“These areas that are found in nonattainment are very limited in terms of industrial development or even highway construction,” Patrick Sullivan, president of the Mississippi Energy Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to energy-related economic development, said in a phone interview with Mississippi Watchdog. “It adds cost and it delays almost all economic development. To reduce the ozone level to where they’re talking about would put economic sanctions on a lot of areas of Mississippi.

“If Bolivar County were declared to be in nonattainment, what options would an area with such a low population have? There’s very little industrial activity in that area and within 100 miles of there.”

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the ozone rule is another example of federal regulatory overreach, as are proposed rules on carbon emissions. He and House Speaker Philip Gunn wrote to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, urging her to reconsider.

“The Obama adminstration’s EPA is making it harder for Mississippi businesses to continue to provide their services, and I think that we’ve got to fight against federal government overreach by the EPA,” Reeves told Mississippi Watchdog. “I sent the EPA a letter outlining the ridiculous costs they would be imposing on Mississippi consumers.”

During a recent policy retreat for lieutenant governors, Reeves said, several energy company executives told the group that states would be looking at “double-digit increases” in electricity prices.

The tighter standards would be the “most expensive regulation ever imposed on the American public, “according to a July study by the National Association of Manufacturers on the effects of a 60 ppm limit.

Among the consequences are a reduction of the U.S. gross domestic product by $270 billion per year and $3.4 trillion from 2017 to 2040, as well as a loss of more than 2.9 million jobs by 2040. Also among the possible consequences could be the “shutdown, scrappage or modification of power plants, factories, heavy-duty vehicles, off-road vehicles and even passenger cars.”

NAM’s study says emissions technology hasn’t caught up to the new standards, which means companies have no off-the-shelf method of complying with a lower limit.

The new rules could limit oil and natural gas production.

“The new ozone regulation, I’d put it in the category of having a major, major economic impact,” Sullivan said. “People need to start to pay attention. It’s not just another regulation. To set a standard this low is just not achievable in some areas because ozone is a naturally occurring compound.”

The Obama administration abandoned a similar rule change in 2011 in the runup to the 2012 elections, citing its far-reaching economic impact.

Graph by the National Association of Manufacturers

SEEING RED: According to a study by the National Association of Manufacturers, huge swathes of the country could face severe penalties for being out of attainment with stricter standards on ozone.

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