The Senate environment committee on Wednesday took its first steps toward approving a two-pronged attack against the Obama administration's "overly complicated and duplicative" ozone rules for smog.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., convened a hearing as chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee's clean air subcommittee to consider legislation to counter the Environmental Protection Agency's overly restrictive requirements.
The EPA's new smog rules went into effect last year, and although they were not as strict as environmentalists wanted, lawmakers and business groups say they are overly burdensome and unnecessary.
As Capito said, the rules overly complicate the situation states face in complying with the agency's national air quality standards by adding to the burden they already face from the older regulations.
Dozens of counties across the country are still seeking to implement the 2008 ozone standards, Capito said. Because of the "duplicative" nature of the new rules, West Virginia and a number of other states and industry groups are suing the EPA to reverse course.
The 2015 ozone standard seeks to reduce ozone from 75 to 70 parts per billion. Originally, the agency had considered going as low as 65 ppb, and environmental groups are suing the EPA to do that.
Industry observers say even at 70 parts per billion, the rule is still difficult to meet, even impossible.
But the administration is not listening, Capito said. Instead, it is maintaining its "assault" on the nation's coal-fired power plants with increasingly strict emission standards. The ozone rules would harm energy development across the country, as well as any major construction projects and even prevent roads being built, business groups say.
But the bills Capito was looking at Wednesday would not overturn the EPA rules. Her bill would ensure that states are not forced to implement uneconomic processes to comply with the strict regulations.
The second bill sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would set up an "early action" program to avoid the "non-attainment" designation under the EPA rules. Non-attainment is considered the kiss of death for cities and counties to attract businesses and expand their economies.
Capito said the bill simply offers flexibility and other tools for states to meet the current rules without being penalized under the new rules.
Similar bills were passed by the House earlier this month.
Several Western states such as Arizona say the ozone standards will be especially harmful to them. In many cases, the emissions that states will be held accountable for are blown in from other regions of the country and even Asia, which the new rule does not account for.
Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the EPA "simply can't penalize states" for emissions they didn't create.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the "outcry has not dimmed" on the issue, as the state's attorney general seeks legal action against it. Flake said he has introduced a resolution that would repeal the 2015 rule.
Even California, the bellwether state for clean air and emission regulations, is failing to meet the EPA's ozone rules. Capito said she was surprised to hear that one-third of Californians live in areas that are out of compliance.