New EPA Smog Standard Likely to Lead to Renewed Push for NJ to Comply

For environmentalists, tighter smog regulations don’t go far enough; for business, they go too far

The federal Environmental Protection Agency yesterday tightened health standards for smog, a pervasive pollutant that can cause respiratory problems for children, the elderly, and those suffering from asthma.

The rule, adopted after years of delay and litigation, falls short of the tougher limits for smog, or ground-level ozone, sought by environmentalists, but is still viewed by business interests as among the costliest regulations ever adopted by the agency.

For New Jersey, a state that has never achieved the health-quality standard for ozone, the adoption of the rule likely will likely lead to new efforts to clamp down on tailpipe emissions that contribute to the formation of smog.

While ozone levels have been declining steadily in recent years across the nation and in New Jersey, the state still experienced 15 days this summer when pollution exceeded the current smog standard. Smog forms when emissions from factories, power plants, and vehicles bake in the hot summer sun.

Reducing the existing standard from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb, will cause a number of states to be out compliance with the new rule. The last time the regulation was tightened was in 2008.

Environmentalists said the new rule is an improvement over the old standard but noted that the EPA’s own science review suggested that it should be set at 60 ppb to reduce unhealthy levels of smog. “It’s not going where we need to go,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

But Michael Egenton, a vice president for the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, worried the new standard will impose new costs on businesses that already have done a lot to curb emissions contributing to smog from their factories and plants.

[related]He noted a big part of New Jersey’s smog problems are caused by pollution from other states drifting downwind. “We need to look to other states to step up to the plate,’’ Egenton said.

Those views were echoed, in part, by comments submitted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on the federal agency’s draft rule this past March.

“New Jersey’s air quality is significantly impacted by ozone transport from upwind states,’’ the state DEP told the EPA, calling on the agency to develop solutions to the problem. “According to the USEPA models, more than 50 percent of the ozone levels in New Jersey are attributable to air pollution from upwind states.’’

If New Jersey is going to comply with the tougher standard, then it also needs to crack down on emissions from motor vehicles, the largest contributor to ozone-causing pollutants, according to the DEP and others.

Egenton agreed, saying the state needs to get tougher on emissions from vehicles and invest more in mass transit.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said one way to reduce tailpipe pollution from cars is to encourage low-emission vehicles as neighboring states are already doing. He also called for a “massive investment’’ in mass transit instead of raising fares, which occurred this week at NJ Transit.

The DEP, however, said the EPA must take the lead in reduce smog-causing pollution from so-called mobile sources, since states have limited authority to directly regulate those sources.

Whatever the cost of achieving the new standard, there will be a positive economic impact associated with the rule through the decrease in asthma attacks and hospital visits because of exposure to unhealthy levels of pollution, O’Malley said.

Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government, said advanced pollution-control technologies exist now. “Refusing to invest in these technologies today will mean higher business and social costs tomorrow, with higher health costs from respiratory diseases and more suffering and illness among vulnerable groups.’’

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