By John Walke, Natural Resources Defense Council
This week a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) testified at a Congressional hearing opposing safer health standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, pollution that EPA is expected to finalize this fall. At a House Science Committee hearing entitled “EPA Regulatory Overreach: Impacts on American Competitiveness,” NAM’s Ross Eisenberg addressed areas of the country suffering from unhealthy smog levels–called “nonattainment areas” under the law. Mr. Eisenberg asserted that these areas are synonymous with no economic growth due to the burden of industry needing to clean up industry’s own air pollution. The Twitter account for NAM was so taken with this bold assertion that it even highlighted it during the hearing.
The only little problem with the NAM claim is it is completely, unequivocally, preposterously false.
I knew right away that some states with the highest economic growth in recent years also are home to the country’s worst smog nonattainment areas (Texas, California). But I decided to look into the question more rigorously. A Google search immediately identified a 2014 Business Insider article examining all 50 state economies, ranked from slowest to fastest growth. From the top 10 fastest-growing state economies, it was easy to compare those states to EPA nonattainment designations for ground-level ozone pollution. Here’s what I found:
Contrary to NAM’s “no growth” claim, 7 of the 10 fastest growing state economies have ozone nonattainment areas.
So not only is the NAM “no growth” claim false, it’s wildly, demonstrably false. History disproves the claim convincingly. And lest one think this could be an aberration in recent years, economic growth has consistently occurred and continued across the United States in areas designated nonattainment for ozone and other air pollutants under the Clean Air Act since the law passed in 1970.
Indeed, since 1970 the U.S. has reduced dangerous air pollution on average by 68% while the economy has grown by over 240%.
The NAM witness also raised the prospect of areas being hit with a Clean Air Act sanction–the loss of federal highway funds–as a result of ozone nonattainment status and failing to make timely progress with safer health standards. Several Republican Senators raised this same fearsome possibility more than a few times.
The only problem, again, is the facts don’t support that fear mongering. The Federal Highway Administration keeps a running historic tally of highway sanctions imposed under the Clean Air Act. It shows that EPA has imposed such sanctions just once.
Finally, for a hearing entitled “EPA Regulatory Overreach,” one would think that NAM would come loaded for bear, with multiple examples of EPA overreach when the agency proposed safer clean air standards for Americans. And because EPA’s legal responsibilities are mandatory under the Clean Air Act and inherently scientific in nature (section 109), and founded exclusively on public health, one would think NAM’s testimony would be especially powerful and brutal showing legal and scientific overreach. Think again.
Amazingly, the NAM testimony has zero examples, indeed no language, devoted to showing or even trying to showing EPA legal overreach in enforcing the law, or scientific overreach in the studies and evidence EPA relies upon. It’s really quite extraordinary.
So NAM’s pretense to be testifying about EPA overreach on safer clean air standards joins a list of whoppers that are demonstrably false.
Tens of millions of Americans are currently breathing unhealthy air. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set health standards for smog pollution that protect the public with an adequate margin of safety. Millions more Americans are breathing unhealthy air because standards have not been updated to comport with the law and the best scientific understanding of what’s unsafe. Safer air can be delivered across the country with measures that already are in place and working today. History has shown us that it’s a false choice to suggest that we can’t grow our economy at the same that we better protect our health. NAM’s talking points weren’t true before and they are not true now.