Love the Trump administration, hate the Trump administration, or simply watch the whole spectacle in utter bewilderment, the 45th chief executive did one unquestionably valuable thing for the cause of liberty, opportunity, and prosperity: He picked Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA administrator’s made quite a few solid decisions since taking the bureaucracy’s reins. One of them came in April, when he chose to “fully review” the Obama administration’s 2015 tightening of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone.
As environmental scholar Indur M. Goklany explained in Clearing the Air: The Real Story of the War on Air Pollution, ozone “is formed by a series of complex chemical reactions” between volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. But “the speed of those reactions and the movement and concentration of ozone depend on meteorological factors such as temperature, wind speed, height of inversion layer, cloudiness, and precipitation.”
Like every “criteria pollutant” regulated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, ozone’s been on the decline for decades. (See above for EPA chart.) The good news has been despite the enormous challenge of controlling not a single pollutant, but an ever-changing mixture induced by manmade emissions, weather forces, altitude, and vegetation.
Irrefutable progress notwithstanding, two years ago, the EPA ratcheted the ozone standard down from 75 to 70 parts per billion. Opposition to the lowered threshold was beyond widespread, with the Flexible Packaging Association, American Public Power Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Personal Care Products Council, The Fertilizer Institute, American Council for Capital Formation, U.S. Conference of Mayors, American Highway Users Alliance, Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, Americans for Tax Reform, National Association of Counties, Western States Petroleum Association, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, The LIBRE Initiative, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, and American Bakers Association, to name just a few, voicing their concerns. In the Land of Enchantment, Governor Martinez, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, and New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry joined the resistance. NMOGA noted that the EPA was proposing to “lower the ozone standard to a level at or near background,” adding that New Mexico would face “an even more severe impact due to the amount of terrain at higher elevation because the method of measuring ozone introduces a high elevation bias and because stratospheric ozone impacts tend to be more frequent at higher elevations.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that the new standard “wholly discretionary, and none other than President Obama overruled the EPA on ozone in 2011 in the name of ‘reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty.’ But that was headed into an election year, and Mr. Obama is making amends to burnish his eco-legacy.”
Not surprisingly, both industry and several state governments challenged the EPA in court, making a powerful case that the bureaucracy had incredibly weak “science” behind its action, and that it did not analyze “the adverse economic, social, and energy impacts of the potential revised standards.”
So … how does this involve Hector Balderas? This week New Mexico’s attorney general, siding against his state’s Environment Department, joined New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s lawsuit against the EPA, alleging that Pruitt has “illegally stall[ed] the designation of areas impacted by unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone (known as smog) — vital to protecting New Yorkers and other Americans from dangerous pollution.”
Yes, that’s right. New Mexico taxpayers are now paying for state officials to both support and oppose the EPA’s new ozone standard.
Balderas recently decided that he won’t run for governor in 2018. Maybe he concluded that he could do more damage to New Mexico’s economy as attorney general.
August 4 update: The Washington Post has reported that “the Trump administration reversed its effort to delay Obama administration regulations to curb air pollution that forms smog.” Errors of Enchantment will continue to monitor the situation.