March 17, 2015
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20460
RE: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0699—
National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone
Dear Ms. McCarthy:
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) is pleased to offer its comments on the rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “National Ambient Air Quality Standards” (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0699), which was published in the Federal Register on Dec. 17, 2014. PFB is a general farm organization, made up of more than 59,780 members, providing legislative support, information, and services to Pennsylvania's farmers and rural families since 1950. Our organization includes 54 local organizations (county Farm Bureaus) that actively operate in 64 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. PFB is the state affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), an organization representing more than six million, two hundred thousand member families throughout the United States. In addition to the comments we are offering today, we want to affirm our support of the comments to be filed on this proposed rule by AFBF, and would request that such comments be treated as part of the comments contained herein.
Generally speaking, the proposed NAAQS revisions tighten primary (health-based) and secondary (welfare-based) standards for ozone—changes that will impose real and significant costs while providing benefits whose existence is speculative at best. PFB is especially concerned about the difficulty in regulating volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and other potential ozone precursors from agriculture, as well as the chilling effect of these standards on the national economy as a whole and on Pennsylvania specifically.
We understand that the Clean Air Act directs the EPA to set NAAQS for ozone at a level that is protective of human health and the environment, and to regulate both VOC and NOx emissions as ozone precursors. However, it is important to recognize that since 1980, ozone forming emissions have already been cut in half, and average ozone concentrations have dropped by 33 percent over the same period. EPA’s proposal also flies in the face of the fact that the agency updated ozone standards only six years ago—standards which are behind schedule due to EPA effectively suspending their implementation from 2010-2012 while it unsuccessfully pursued reconsideration. As states make up lost ground in putting the current standards into effect, we are likely to see additional air quality improvements.
States are currently committing substantial resources–both in time and money–toward achieving emissions reductions under current ozone standards. Yet EPA seemingly is disregarding the above referenced air quality progress of the past three decades and its own recently updated ozone standards in favor of a proposed new stringent range of standards from 70 to 65 parts per billion (ppb) that would bring vast swaths of the country into nonattainment. In some areas, the proposed range is at or near the level of background ozone that is naturally occurring or internationally transported, pushing even rural counties far from industrial activity into nonattainment.
For example, according to data from URS, as of July 2014, 44 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties would be violating a 60 ppb ozone standard, while the remaining 23 (predominately rural) counties would be anticipated to violate that standard (based on special interpolation)—a result that most observers would find to be nonsensical.
As you are likely aware, agriculture is a critically important industry in Pennsylvania. Although a relatively small contributor, agriculture produces VOCs (from pesticides and livestock) and NOx (from engines and other sources) that may be regulated through monitoring and control measures. Restrictions limiting NOx and VOCs may create a significant problem for agriculture in Pennsylvania and nationally, as the proposed standard may require the implementation of control measures that would:
• Curtail production activities.
• Restrict pesticide applications, designate/limit pesticide application times, and eliminate pesticide availability.
• Restrict animal agricultural feeding operations due to emissions from animal waste handling and storage.
• Prescribe costly control measures for animal agriculture.
• Prescribe costly and wasteful control measures for certain food and agricultural processing industries.
In addition, the domestic renewable fuels industry (ethanol and biodiesel) could be greatly affected by control measures required for a more stringent standard since they too can contribute to VOCs and NOx during manufacture and use.
The proposed rule will also indirectly affect agriculture via the costs passed on to the consumer from special requirements for vehicles and fuels (diesel trucks and farm equipment), restrictive permitting requirements that affect plant expansions, and the loss of federal highway and transit funding. Farming is an energy-intensive business that depends on reliable, affordable sources of energy for daily operations, such as using tractors and operating dairy barns, poultry houses and irrigation pumps. For farmers that compete in a global economy, higher energy costs and fewer transportation options not only hurt competitiveness, but can determine farm viability and prosperity.
If finalized, EPA’s proposed stringent ozone standards could limit business expansion in nearly every populated region of the U.S. and impair the ability of U.S. companies to create new jobs and of agriculture, in particular, to remain competitive. Local communities will face burdens to commercial, industrial and agricultural activity not only vital to creating jobs, but also to providing tax revenue that support local services like public safety and education. This is of great concern to PFB, whose mission is not only to increase the viability of farmers and ranchers but to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania’s rural communities. This proposal’s hardship to rural Pennsylvania is real and immediate, while the benefits are unverified and uncertain.
Building a new facility or performing major modifications to certain existing facilities that result in increased ozone concentrations in, or near, a nonattainment area will require permits that meet the most stringent Clean Air Act standard by installing the most effective emission reduction technology regardless of cost. In addition, states are mandated to offset any ozone-forming emissions from new projects or projects undergoing major modifications by reducing emissions from other existing sources in a nonattainment area. If no party is willing to provide offsets, then the project cannot go forward. Nonattainment designation also has a profound impact on infrastructure development vital to the agriculture community. Beginning one year from the date of the nonattainment designation, federally-supported highway and transit projects cannot proceed in a nonattainment area unless the state can demonstrate that the project will cause no increase in ozone emissions.
The restrictions do not disappear when an area finally comes into attainment. Instead, former nonattainment areas face a legacy of EPA regulatory oversight. Before a nonattainment area can be redesignated to attainment, EPA must receive and approve an enforceable maintenance plan for the area that specifies measures providing continued maintenance of ozone standards and contingency measures to be implemented promptly if an ozone standard is violated.
In closing, the stringent new ozone standards have the potential for damaging economic consequences across the entire economy and would place serious restrictions on farmers, increasing input costs for things like electricity, fuel, fertilizer and equipment. Further, as ozone standards are ratcheted down closer to levels that exist naturally, more farmers will be forced to abide by restrictions on equipment use and land management, making it harder to stay in business. EPA’s own estimates show that a new ozone rule could cost tens of billions of dollars per year and independent estimates indicate that the costs will likely be much higher, putting millions of jobs at risk. A new ozone rule has the potential to be the most costly regulation in our nation’s history.
In light of the economic hardship a new ozone standard would cause to farmers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, including the reduction in funding for crucial civic services, and the lack of evidence supporting the proposition that the benefits of the new standard would outweigh its costs, PFB encourages the EPA to retain the existing ozone standard in the final rule.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this proposal.
Director, Regulatory Affairs