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EPA Policies May Increase Air Pollution

 

DATE: February 11, 2005

BACKGROUND: In 1999, EPA issued regulations mandating lower levels of ground-level ozone, or smog, by reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline.  Low-sulfur gasoline was seen by EPA as a way of attacking smog by cutting nationwide vehicular emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  But by misjudging the nature of smog, and by playing it fast and loose with the research and testing supporting its actions, EPA is on the verge of degrading the air quality in cities all across the nation. 

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Dirtier air, higher gas prices, rigged tests.  If this sounds like a horror story, it is.  And it's being brought to you by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: An independent assessment of EPA's testing procedures was highly critical of the agency.  The lab concluded that the "methodology used by EPA was faulty," and that the data it produced were "not objective and were made in a way to present a predetermined conclusion."  What's more, when EPA promulgated its scheme to reduce NOx emissions, the agency's own analysts concluded the rule would increase ozone in many areas of the country.  Yet, rather than changing course in the light of mounting scientific evidence that it's headed in the wrong direction, EPA insists on forcing its ill-begotten scheme on the rest of the country. 

DISCUSSION:

In 1999, EPA issued regulations, known in EPA jargon as the "Tier II rules," mandating lower levels of ground-level ozone, or smog, by reducing the amount of sulfur in gasoline.  Low-sulfur gasoline was seen by EPA as a way of attacking smog by cutting nationwide vehicular emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).1

Reducing smog, particularly in crowded urban areas, is a worthy goal, but only if the measures taken to that end actually accomplish what they are set out to do.  But by misjudging the nature of smog, and by playing it fast and loose with the research and testing supporting its actions, EPA is on the verge of degrading the air quality in cities all across the nation.  

Unlike other pollutants, ozone is not directly emitted into the atmosphere, but is created through a complex series of reactions involving NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight on warm, calm days.2  EPA simplistically characterizes NOx as a precursor of ozone, and thus implies that all NOx reduction always yield ozone reductions.  But as Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute points out, " under the right conditions - conditions that now exist in many American cities - reducing NOx can actually make ozone worse."3 

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that "NOx reductions can have either a beneficial or detrimental effect on ozone concentrations, depending on the locations and the emissions rates of VOC and NOx sources in a region."4  What's more, when EPA promulgated its scheme to reduce NOx emissions, the agency's own analysts concluded the rule would increase ozone in many areas of the country.5

According to research cited by the American Enterprise Institute's Schwartz, the places most likely to see worsening air quality courtesy of EPA are New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, southern California, and the San Francisco Bay area.6  Indeed, recent reductions in NOx in Denver have already led to a re-emergence of ozone as a problem in that Rocky Mountain city.7

Rather than changing course in the light of mounting scientific evidence that it's headed in the wrong direction, EPA insists on forcing its ill-begotten scheme on the rest of the country.  The agency has even cooked the books to create the appearance that it knows what its doing.  To make its case for its smog initiative, EPA carried out tests on vehicles at its lab in Ann Arbor, Mich.  For an air quality rule that will cover tens of millions of vehicles throughout the  country, EPA ran tests on a grand total of four vehicles - an SUV, a pickup truck and two minivans.  And the SUV (a Ford Explorer) had been modified by EPA before the tests began.8

An assessment of EPA's testing procedures performed by Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, Tx., considered the world's premier engine and emissions testing laboratory, was highly critical of the agency.  The lab concluded that the "methodology used by EPA was faulty,"9 and that the data it produced were "not objective and were made in a way to present a predetermined conclusion."10
      
Adding insult to injury, EPA's flawed tests were not entered into the record until it was too late for public comment on them.11

None of this was necessary.  EPA ignored other viable, less costly solutions, which could have easily improved the nation's air quality.   For example, it has long been recognized that a relatively small percentage of vehicles, mostly older, poorly maintained cars and trucks, account for most of the vehicular sources of air pollution.  Remote sensing technologies exist that can easily identify these vehicles.  A far more sensible way to reduce smog from vehicular emissions is to require owners to make necessary repairs, and to provide them with incentives to scrap their clunkers for newer, cleaner cars.12

But why would EPA use common sense?  Meanwhile, Americans can be expected to dig deeper to pay for EPA's new low-sulfur gas, with estimates ranging between 20 cents and 50 cents per gallon at the pump. 

Fed up with EPA's shenanigans, the National Alternative Fuels Association is dragging EPA, kicking and screaming, into federal court in Washington, D.C., with a date set for Feb. 14.   




by Bonner Cohen

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002




Footnotes:

1) Steven Milloy, "EPA Makes Public Pay for More Smog," Foxnews.com 4 Feb. 2005 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0.2933.146345.00.html

2) Joel Schwartz, "Damn the Science, Full Speed Ahead," Techcentralstation.com 20 Aug. 2003 <http://www.techcentralstation.com/082003D.html

3) Schwartz, Damn the Science"

4) "NAFA vs. EPA," http://www.altfuels.us/nafa_vs_epa.php

5) J.M. Heuss, et.al, "Weekday/Weekend Ozone Differences: What We Can Learn From Them," Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 53 (2003):772-788

6) Schwartz, "Damn the Science."

7) Don Stedman, "Ozone Poses New Health Threat for Denver," http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihIHWISHWOOO/333/341/367723.html

8) Milloy, "EPA Makes Public Pay"

9) Milloy, "EPA Makes Public Pay"

10) "Declaration of Mel Ingalls," http://www.altfuels.us/pdf/MelIngallsDeclaration.pdf

11) Milloy, "EPA Makes Public Pay"

12) "NAFA vs. EPA," http:www.altfuels.us/nafa_vs_epa.php

 


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