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EPA faces legal blizzard over smog

012216 ozone suit grows js
Industry groups are joining the EPA in a lawsuit to stop environmentalists from tightening smog rules. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

It is never too cold, or too snowy, to sue.

Although the government was closed Friday afternoon because of a snowstorm, a large coalition of industry and business groups, comprising a large chunk of the U.S. economy, joined a lawsuit on the side of the Environmental Protection Agency to stop environmental groups from making the agency's already strict ozone regulations for cutting smog even stricter.

It's ironic, because the industry coalition is also suing the agency over the same rules in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The industry sued over the rules being too strict, and the environmentalists sued because they weren't strict enough.

The activists don't think the EPA went far enough when it finalized its ozone rules last year, lowering the national air quality standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the leading the industry coalition opposing the groups, can't contend with 70 ppb, let alone a level such as 65 or 60 ppb. It says a pollution standard that low would place all cities and pristine park lands in violation of the law, and in noncompliance, which it sees as harmful to the economy.

William Kovacs, the Chamber's senior vice president for regulatory affairs, said that the group's lawsuit filed in December details how "EPA's 70 ppb mandate is unattainable for many communities and will stifle economic expansion opportunities in areas across the country." But the "even more stringent standard sought by these special interest groups would force a far greater number of cities and counties into EPA's economic 'penalty box,' and would be devastating to American business."

"The Chamber will continue to push back against unreasonable regulatory overreach from the EPA and third-party litigants," Kovacs said.

Many congressional Republicans refer to the ozone regulations as the most costly in history.

"The more stringent standards sought by environmental petitioners would have even more devastating impacts on ... intervenors' members and the overall economy than the [70 ppb standard] that EPA did adopt," the coalition argues in its Friday motion. "For example, an economic analysis in the record estimates that a standard of 65 ppb, if attainable, could, over the period from 2017 through 2040, cost nearly $1.1 trillion (present value) and result in a loss of approximately 1.4 million job equivalents."

Tightening the standard to 60 ppb would cost potentially $270 million annually, for a total cost of more than $6 trillion over the period and a loss of about 2.9 million jobs, the industry said.

Groups joining the Chamber's motion to intervene include the National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, Utility Air Regulatory Group, Portland Cement Association, American Coke and Coal Chemicals Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Oilseed Processors Association, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, American Forest & Paper Association, American Foundry Society, American Iron and Steel Institute, and the American Wood Council.