Federal lawmakers lambasted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for holding a closed-door meeting with state officials over the agency’s new ozone regulations — which could be one of the most expensive regulations ever.
Lawmakers claim the EPA rejected requests to allow the public to participate in its ozone meeting in Arizona Wednesday to avoid embarrassment. Basically, they didn’t want the public to see how mad state officials were over the agency setting new ozone standards that may be impossible for some states to fully comply with.
“As is typical of the Obama EPA, refusing to allow folks into a public meeting to discuss one of the most expensive rules in history is not just disturbing – it’s laughable,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter told The Daily Caller News Foundation of EPA’s closed-door meeting.
“EPA shuns all accountability, oversight, and transparency, and today’s episode is another example of why this troubled agency urgently needs top-down reform,” Vitter added.
He wasn’t alone, other lawmakers took swipes at EPA for sticking to its closed-door meeting despite calls for transparency.
“This is just another shocking example of the lack of transparency at EPA,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith told TheDCNF. “Now, the EPA has chosen to conduct closed-door, secret meetings about its costly ozone regulations, intentionally blocking those impacted by the rule from voicing their opinions.”
Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also called for the EPA to allow the public to participate in its two-day meeting on the agency’s pending ozone regulation. Flake argued the ozone rule could “devastate Arizona’s economy.”
“I share stakeholders’ concerns that some of the most important discussions are set to take place behind closed doors,” Flake said in a statement issued Wednesday.
EPA is holding a two-day meeting to discuss agency ozone standards, specifically issues related to what’s called “background ozone” — smog that’s naturally-occurring or originates from pollution from areas outside a state, like China.
EPA proposed lowering its ozone, or smog, standard last year from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion. The regulation sparked huge backlash from states, particularly in the western U.S. where high elevation and pollution from China make achieving a lower ozone standard virtually impossible.
State officials form Arizona and Colorado were concerned they wouldn’t be able to meet the new standards — indeed, some areas of these states had trouble meeting the previous ozone mandate.
For example, Colorado Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper was “very concerned” his state would not be able to comply with tightened ozone standards. Hickenlooper told CBS Denver last year that “obviously we’re at a unique disadvantage because we’re a mile high.”
EPA confirmed Hickenlooper’s concerns in a white paper released earlier this year that found the Denver metro region would likely not be able to comply with ozone standards. This finding was released after the agency proposed tightening smog limits.
EPA’s alleged lack of transparency on the practicality and cost of new ozone limits has only made state officials and federal lawmakers more irate with the Obama administration.
“This lack of transparency is also demonstrated when the EPA provided documents filled with redactions in response to legitimate questions from the Science Committee about the science behind the ozone regulation,” Smith said. “Why would the EPA go to such lengths to hide information from the American people?”
It’s not just Colorado officials who are worried about complying with stricter EPA rules, most state air regulators have expressed concerns background ozone levels will make compliance extremely difficult.
“A majority of state agency comments raised concerns about the role of background ozone, including both naturally-occurring and internationally-transported contributions to ground-level ozone, as an achievability or implementation challenge,” according to a June 2015 report by the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies.
“There are a number of implementation issues that are of particular concern to western states including background levels and transported ozone, and policies for addressing exceptional events outside of state control,” the Western Governors Association wrote to EPA last year.
These concerns have only amplified calls for increased transparency from EPA. The agency’s two-day meeting includes a closed-door meeting with state, tribal and local air officials for the first day, and the second day will only be open to those who pre-registered for the event.
“Yesterday was the first day of a two-day workshop to advance the collective understanding of technical and policy issues associated with background ozone,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison told TheDCNF.
“During the two days, EPA and attendees will be discussing the tools available to states for addressing background ozone and the application of those tools. We will be using the same presentation both days,” Harrison said. “EPA will prepare summaries of the discussions from both days and will post those to its website.”
But assurances of public transcripts wasn’t enough to convince a former EPA science advisor.
“As a scientist who has worked for decades at the interface between science and policy, I favor open and transparent dialogue among all the parties – it enhances public trust,” Roger McClellan, a former chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said in a statement.
“Closed meetings with restricted attendance raise suspicions,” McClellan said. “I hope EPA will reverse course and open both meetings to all stakeholders, including members of the public. There are tough issues concerning background ozone, especially in the west, that must be addressed in an equitable manner to avoid punishing westerners who treasure both the environment and jobs.”
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