New ozone standards will push the majority of American metropolises from compliance with to violation of the federal Clean Air Act. In this column, Joel Schwartz argues that ozone isn't the big problem.
"The Clean Air Act already pervades Americans' work and personal lives in ways both obvious and subtle. But the current system will seem a libertarian paradise compared to the brave new world we're about to enter. The EPA's new standard will greatly increase regulatory burdens in areas that already violate the ozone standard, and will expand the Byzantine Clean Air Act planning system into large areas of the country that have never been subject to them."
"Due to relatively low ozone levels during the last few years, only 19 percent of the nation's metropolitan areas violate EPA's current eight-hour ozone standard of 85 parts per billion, down from 40 percent just a few years ago. Non-metropolitan counties - those that include only rural areas or smaller cities - are in even better shape, with only a four-percent violation rate. Absent a tougher standard, this would have meant that many areas would shortly be getting out from under some of the Clean Air Act's most odious requirements."
"With the new standard, however, non-attainment will become the norm, rather than the exception. EPA is proposing a standard somewhere in the range of 70–75 ppb. Based on current ozone levels, this would put 67–87 percent of metropolitan areas in violation, and 39–72 percent of non-metropolitan counties."
"Ozone also can't be causing people to develop asthma. Asthma prevalence has nearly doubled during the last 25 years, but ozone and every other air pollutant sharply declined at the same time. Even direct attempts to link air pollution to asthma have come up empty. CARB and researchers from the University of Southern California tracked thousands of children from ages 10 to 18. Children who grew up in communities with the highest ozone levels in the country had a 30-percent lower risk of developing asthma when compared with children in areas with background ozone levels. The same study also showed that growing up in areas that exceed the current 85 ppb ozone standard 120 days per year has no effect on lung growth or capacity."