Pennsylvania is “substantially underprepared“ for an economic slump, according to a recent Moody’s Analytics report. Even a moderate recession would force the Keystone state to hike taxes or slash spending. Given the General Assembly’s recent track record we can reasonably predict they will choose higher taxes.
Obama-era environmental regulations could soon precipitate just such a slump. The rules force states to lower emissions of ozone — a ground-level pollutant found in smog — or endure stiff penalties for non-compliance. Either option would suck billions out of Pennsylvania’s economy.
In July, the House passed a bill delaying the implementation of these regulations, but the Senate has yet to do the same. Senator Bob Casey has the power to stop the ozone rules from choking Pennsylvania’s economic growth.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 grants the EPA authority to regulate the amount of ozone in the air. The EPA does not directly limit emissions of pollutants. Rather, it sets a standard and forces states to comply.
Effectively, the agency outsources the dirty work of imposing job-killing regulations to state officials. In 2008, the EPA capped the amount of ozone at 75 parts per billion. In 2015, before the 2008 regulations were even implemented fully, the agency changed the standard to 70 ppb.
Saddling states with this more stringent standard is unnecessary because America’s air quality has steadily improved in recent decades. Since 1980, our nation’s ozone levels have plummeted by a third.
Pennsylvania is no exception to this trend. Businesses from the Hershey Company to Comcast have pledged to reduce their environmental impact. Thanks to these initiatives, Pennsylvania’s air has become cleaner. From 1998 to 2008, ozone concentrations dropped 17 percent.
The EPA’s 2015 ozone regulations, designed to combat the nonexistent problem of excessive smog, would cripple the U.S. economy. As many as 958 counties could fail to meet the 70 ppb standard.
If states fail to lower ozone emissions in these areas within a certain time frame, they’ll face a number of penalties. For instance, the federal government can freeze construction on highways and other transportation projects to keep ozone-emitting cars off the road. Federal agencies can also force companies who are building or renovating factories to install the latest emission reduction technologies, even if it puts the projects over budget.
Pennsylvania would suffer more than most other states. Already, 14 counties have ozone concentrations higher than the 70 ppb cap. Only four states have more counties that are non-compliant.
Penn’s Woods would have to spend a whopping amount to meet the 2015 standards. Cutting emissions to 65 ppb, just below the standard, would cost Pennsylvania $98 billion from 2017 to 2040. The compliance costs would wipe out over 100,000 jobs and raise costs on vehicle owners ï¿½“ you ï¿½“ by $15 billion.
The House realizes the EPA standards would destroy the economy. That’s why it passed the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017 to delay the regulations.
The bill’s counterpart, S.263, is pending in the Senate. It’s up to Senator Casey to convince his fellow lawmakers to follow the House’s lead.
Pennsylvanians currently enjoy the cleanest air in decades — but we’ll soon choke on economically crippling EPA regulations unless Congress steps in.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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