At some point, President Barack Obama will realize that his administration's policies will not allow the country to have both massive new infrastructure spending and stringent new regulations sought by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That point could come as soon as Oct. 1, when new rules for ground-level ozone are expected to be finalized by the EPA. If the agency reduces the current federal ozone limit from 75 parts per billion to as low as 65 parts per billion, the new standard will put the majority of the country's population centers out of compliance and subject them to harsh restrictions and penalties, including the withholding of all federal highway and transit funding.
Coincidentally, a temporary extension of the federal Highway Trust Fund — the 34th such patch since 2008, the last time the EPA lowered its ozone standard — expires Oct. 29. That means members of Congress will be working with the president this fall to pass long-term funding for highway and infrastructure upgrades worth hundreds of billions of dollars while the EPA is forging a regulatory hammer that will prevent much of that money from ever being spent.
Washington can't have it both ways. And the best way to resolve the conflict is for the EPA to forget about imposing a new ozone standard.
Ozone is a gas that contributes greatly to smog and poor air quality that can cause health problems. Vehicle and industrial emissions and fires create surface-level ozone.
Technological advances have greatly reduced ozone-forming emissions across the United States over the past four decades. The 2008 reduction in the ozone standard was exceptionally painful for many metropolitan areas and counties, which paid dearly to come into compliance and, to this day, are struggling to stay there.
Now the central planners at the EPA are back for another bite out of the American economy. The agency estimates that reducing the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 65 parts per billion will impose $15 billion in direct annual compliance costs on the private sector, making it the most expensive regulation in EPA history. But the costs don't end there.
A National Association of Manufacturers study says an ozone standard of 65 parts per billion will reduce annual gross domestic product by $140 billion, kill 1.4 million jobs and cost an average U.S. household $830 per year in lost consumption. Nevada's share of those numbers are a $19 billion reduction in gross domestic product between 2017 and 2040, and 6,000 lost jobs per year.
Clark County would not be able to meet that reduced standard — not by a 2018 deadline, not for many, many years after that, if ever. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy reports that this "nonattainment" would have far-reaching consequences for the Las Vegas Valley.
At least 10 highway projects in line to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 would be at risk of losing that money, from Project Neon improvements to Interstate 15, to the new I-11, to Las Vegas Beltway upgrades. Bus service would lose federal funding. And even if local and state leaders came up with the money to replace that lost funding, a freeze on federal approvals would prevent Nevada from moving forward with those needed improvements.
Moreover, nonattainment would greatly affect economic diversification and development efforts. Manufacturing and industrial facilities might not be able to obtain permits if their emissions are deemed unacceptable. And existing businesses could be denied the ability to expand.
The resulting traffic gridlock and choked commerce would be guaranteed to worsen air quality, economic opportunity and quality of life, creating a regulatory death spiral from which Southern Nevada could not hope to escape. Stagnation would set in.
And for what, exactly? The EPA doesn't do cost-benefit analyses. But Michael Honeycutt, director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's toxicology division, says the EPA's data show a reduced ozone standard will actually increase mortality because of lost income. If people can't find jobs and can't afford health care — especially when they're living in traffic-choked cities where they pay federal fuel taxes but don't have them returned for needed road construction projects — they're generally in poorer health and die sooner.
Reducing the federal ozone standard would result in no overall health benefits. It's an arbitrary bureaucratic edict born from a religious adherence to anti-capitalist, radical environmentalism.
For heaven's sake, under a new EPA ozone standard, even Great Basin National Park — hardly an environmental wasteland with toxic air — would be a nonattainment area. The regulation doesn't take into consideration background, naturally occurring ozone.
Nevada's congressional delegation, as well as the valley's local government and business leaders, need to tell the Obama administration and the EPA to stop such a damaging policy from ever taking effect. We'll all breathe a little easier with an unchanged ozone standard.