SALT LAKE CITY — Las Vegas, California and even China are messing with Utah's ability to meet a new federal ozone standard — and that could mean jobs are on the hook.
Background ozone, or drift, floats in from other regions and drives Western states' numbers on the pollutant above the federal threshold, which was adjusted to a lower compliance standard last year over the objections of state elected leaders, Democrat and Republican alike.
"This is just setting us up to fail. I think we’re being set up. There’s too much going on around the state, and when you have all that background ozone coming into the state, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it," said Colorado state senator Cheri Jhan, a Democrat and small-business owner from Wheat Ridge. "When it’s already known that Colorado can’t make it, then is the goal to help states become more ozone friendly? Or is to punish them?”
Jhan's comments, published in the Denver Business Journal, echoes the concern throughout the region, including Utah.
Utah sent its own employees from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to Phoenix earlier in the month to attend an EPA-sponsored workshop exploring the issues of background ozone — or the levels of the pollutant that either naturally occur or are caused by drift.
Dave McNeill, manager of the state's planning branch, said the division has conducted several ozone studies with results that are dismal when it comes to the state's ability to meet the standard.
"We did several summer studies and found that even the air coming into Utah does not meet the standard," he said.
A trajectory analysis shows that for the St. George and Zion National Park areas, the emissions were primarily coming from Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Along the Wasatch Front, the ozone precursors were from the San Francisco Bay Area.
In a teleconference, the National Manufacturers Association, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Center for Regulatory Solutions predicted the standard will be used to stymie economic growth.
"These areas have been thrown into no grow zones status," said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy for the manufacturers' association. "Background ozone effectively penalizes Arizona and other states in the West. We cannot reduce what we cannot control, but that is exactly what the EPA is requiring of us."
Ray Keating, chief economist for the Center for Regulatory Solutions, said industry has been accused of resisting the standard to protect big business, but he stressed the effects go far beyond the major manufacturers.
As an example, 73 percent of employer firms in Arizona have 20 employees or less, and will be impacted.
"This is a federal cap on economic development, including small businesses and job growth."
Keating said the EPA is regulating "ahead of the science" because so much is unknown about background ozone formation. He and others say the agency should stick to the federal standard set in 2008 that has yet to be met.
Environmental groups are unhappy with the new standard, but because they say it doesn't go far enough.
Last December, Earthjustice, representing multiple groups that include the National Parks Conservation Association, filed suit against the EPA asserting the new standards are clearly weaker than what medical experts had called for.
According to the EPA, breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems such as chest pain, coughing and congestion. It worsens bronchitis and asthma, and exposure to ground level ozone can lessen lung function.
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