Update: House votes to delay clean-air protections, but opposition growing

The House of Representatives has voted to delay by eight years the enforcement of some air-pollution protections, but opposition to this industry-backed attack on clean air is mounting as the measure begins a move to the Senate.

The bill, HR 806, is being called by critics the “Smoggy Skies Act.” It delays to 2025 the enforcement that should kick in when metropolitan areas are consistently above the ozone standard of 70 parts per billion. It passed by 229-199, with several Republicans voting against their party’s push for this bill.

“It’s clear more legislators are taking a closer look at this bill pushed by the Trump administration, and understanding the health risks it poses to the people they represent,” said Nat Mund, SELC’s Director of Federal Affairs. “Lawmakers are also realizing the industry’s talking points are not true. The industry has been saying for years that clean air protections cost jobs and hurt the economy, but evidence shows the opposite.”

Here’s SELC’s previous story chronicling the misplaced attack on clean-air protections:

A new analysis by the Southern Environmental Law Center shows one of the most cited reasons for rolling back ozone protections – that tougher standards are too costly to industry and the economy – is not supported by facts.

As environmental protections reduced the number of unhealthy ozone days in the South’s metropolitan areas -- as judged by the current ozone standard of 70 parts per billion -- the economic benchmarks in the six states studied grew considerably.

“As part of a campaign to gut commonsense environmental protections, we’ve seen fossil fuel lobbyists push this untruth that the economy suffers with more regulations,” said Frank Rambo, leader of SELC’s Clean Air and Energy Team. “But the reality is quite different. As the air in the South’s big cities got cleaner, the economies in the southern states also got healthier.”

The analysis showed as the number of “bad” ozone days fell over time, economic vitality went up. The analysis compared the trend of “bad” ozone days from 1992 to 2015 against the gross domestic product in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee for those same years.

The results shows that the efforts by President Trump’s administration to push back ozone standards for the sake of the economy are off base, according to Rambo.

“This is another misplaced attack on a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said. “The process we have for lowering ozone levels has clearly worked while the South’s economy has flourished. We need to allow those safeguards to continue to work, not twist them to favor polluters.”

A sub committee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee previously voted to push back the start date for full compliance with the standards, and the full committee followed suit.

The current ground-level ozone limit is 70 ppb. When a state is beyond the limit, it is required to address the problem through a multi-step process.

The Congressional committee pushed back to 2025 a key early step in that process when EPA officially determines which states will be held accountable for exceeding the 70 ppb standard. Subsequent steps in the process would likewise be moved back eight years.

Even though ground-level ozone has steadily dropped in the South, health groups like the American Lung Association say summertime ozone levels in many places are still too high.

“Despite that continued need and the nation’s progress,” the association’s 2017 report concluded, “some people seek to weaken the Clean Air Act, the public health law that has driven the cuts in pollution since 1970, and to undermine the ability of the nation to fight for healthy air.”

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