Friday, June 22, 2007

Smog saga continues...the revenge of the White House red pen

We’ve only seen the first skirmish in the battle over the EPA’s new smog standards. Brace yourself for a long campaign.

We don’t want to belabor every twist and turn in the plot. But we do want to make you aware of the next mini-battle, as EPA tries to preserve its integrity in the face of continuing pressure from the White House, which has shown its proclivity to promote industry’s position.

The next battle is likely to involve the so-called “regulatory impact analysis” to be released by the EPA. This analysis will try to quantify the various costs and benefits associated with EPA’s proposal and alternatives. EPA has promised to release this document in the next few weeks.

What to look for, and why does this matter?

EPA, as you may know, is prohibited by law from considering costs in setting these standards. (The Supreme Court unanimously ruled so.) But, under an executive order, EPA still has to do this assessment. And industry opponents of tougher standards are chomping at the bit to seize on anything that could help their plan – to stop better standards dead in their tracks.

The big issue to watch for is how EPA treats the topic of exposure to ozone and premature death. In any kind of assessment of this type, avoiding premature death equates to the single biggest monetary benefit of cleaner air. (Leave aside for the moment the moral question of putting a value on someone’s life. The bean counters do it all the time.)

Science has shown that exposure to ozone is associated with premature death.

But we are concerned that the White House Office of Management and Budget may take out its red pen and cross out monetary benefits associated with avoiding death. If that happens, OMB may force EPA to produce a document that suggests high costs, and lower-than-anticipated benefits. And that could help whip up industry opposition to better standards.

OMB recently pulled a similar stunt in EPA’s proposed new standards for lawn mowers and other small engines. In its draft regulatory impact analysis, EPA calculated that cleaner small engines would prevent “between 60 and 360 ozone-related premature deaths” each year. EPA calculated the total benefits of those standards as “between $3.9 billion and $6.1 billion” annually. (These and the documents we will note in a second come from EPA’s official docket. Thanks to our ever-vigilant friends at Environmental Defense for spotting these.)

But OMB took out the red pen. It ordered EPA to eliminate references to premature death from ozone, and to reduce the projected benefits accordingly.

That left EPA with a rule that has considerably lower projected benefits. Total projected annual benefits were reduced to $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion.

1 comment:

Lucy N. said...

Hey, isn't that OMB outfit run by Susan Dudley, who complained loudly a decade ago when EPA set smog standards? (As I recall, she worked for some sort of think tank underwritten by polluter companies.)