Opinion

EPA Must Balance Standards With Cost To Community

REUTERS

Thomas J. Riordan CEO, Neenah Enterprises

Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court — the highest court in the land — held that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot operate in a vacuum, ignoring the economic costs of a recent major rulemaking.

This decision should give the EPA pause as it considers another massive rule: tighter ground-level ozone standards, potentially the most costly regulation in this nation’s history. Manufacturers around the country have joined with small businesses, city mayors, agricultural organizations and everyday Americans to fight this proposal that could cost our country $140 billion a year and put the equivalent of 1.4 million jobs at risk, according to a study commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

If the EPA tightens the standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 ppb, the rule could cost Wisconsin families $580 a year. We could lose more than 24,000 jobs annually. It would cost Wisconsin residents $30 billion in gross state product loss and $1 billion more to own and operate their vehicles statewide during the 14-year compliance period.

This isn’t a question of clean air; we’re already getting that. Existing ozone standards — paired with private investment and technological advancements — have made our air cleaner than it has been in decades and will continue to drive down ozone levels for years to come. But those aggressive standards have only begun to be implemented this year. What we need from the EPA is time to allow states and industries to reach the existing standard of 75 ppb before implementing a draconian drop to a level as low as 65 ppb.

Not even the EPA knows how the nation can reach this tighter standard. Current ozone levels in Yellowstone Park are higher than 65 ppb! The technology simply isn’t here yet to make it feasible without drastic reductions in production from companies like mine. This means that in order to have any hope of meeting standards, our sector must look at curtailing investment in plant expansions and job growth, and consumers across all sectors will find reliable and affordable energy much less prevalent.

Neenah Enterprises Inc. supplies municipal castings, such as the manhole covers and lids, grates and trench castings you see on nearly every street in America. The company dates back to 1872, when it started by making plows for farmers. We always have operated with a strict adherence to process standards, which increasingly include complying with countless environmental regulations. And we are proud to do so. Companies like mine care deeply about balancing a robust economy with clean air, and investments from manufacturers have led to the cleanest air that our neighborhoods have seen in decades.

But this aggressive new ozone standard would be a huge challenge for all manufacturers and would make that type of investment — as well as simple expansion and growth — almost impossible. We already are permitted very heavily. This new policy could put more than 90 percent of the United States in a nonattainment zone, which basically puts the EPA and federal government in charge of any development, any facility expansions and any new facility sites. The consequences would be particularly troubling for companies like Neenah Foundry, long regarded as a pillar of the community with which we share our name.

We pride ourselves on contributing to a cleaner, safer environment for the more than 1,000 employees who live and work in our community. The new rule will make it more difficult, not less, to do so. This unachievable regulation threatens to undermine the innovation that has helped to drive our nation’s manufacturing comeback

According to a poll just released by the NAM, two-thirds of Americans rate their local air quality as excellent or good. Two-thirds cite “less economic growth and job opportunities caused by regulations” as a bigger local problem.

It is when the standards are unachievable that Neenah Enterprises and other small and medium-sized manufacturers suffer. What we need is an EPA that will listen to the people and work collaboratively to improve our environment while balancing the need for economic growth and new jobs. It shouldn’t have to be an “either-or” decision.