A member of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate delegation is concerned that tighter standards for ground-level ozone announced Wednesday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency will have an economic impact on the state that is too sever for the environmental gain.

“Despite the fact that air pollution levels across the United States are at an all time low and our nation’s air quality continues to improve, the EPA decided to further tighten the standard,” said U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, a ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “The consequence of the rule means that hundreds of counties across the country — which have worked long and hard to come into compliance with the current standard — will once again face potential stiff federal penalties, lose highway dollars and become unattractive places to locate new businesses.”

Ottawa County is listed among nine Oklahoma counties which will be in violation of the new EPA ozone standards.

“I am proud of the tremendous progress Oklahoma has made in cleaning up its air,” Inhofe said. “Currently, not a single county in Oklahoma is in violation of the ozone standards. But, this new standard will put a number of counties in the state into non-attainment.

“How can EPA, which considers states like Oklahoma to have clean air, suddenly declare the air unhealthy — even as their pollution levels continue to plummet?”

The new EPA standard will lower the allowable concentration of ozone in the air to no more than 75 parts per million, compared with the old standard of 80 parts per million.

The agency was told that limits of 60 to 70 parts per million are needed to protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens — including children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

Based on the most recent data from monitors in Ottawa County, the area generates smog at approximately 78 parts per million.

Traffic is the primary cause of smog levels in the Ottawa County area, according to Blu Hulsey, state counsel to Inhofe.

Counties in violation of the ozone standard will have to require emission reductions to meet the tougher health rules.

“EPA’s timing could not be worse as various economic stimulus packages are proposed to counter fears of a weakening national economy,” Inhofe said. “While EPA is precluded from considering costs in setting a standard, the sheer economic magnitude of this rule demands that only the highest quality science be used.

“This rule will impose a significant economic burden across the country, with the disadvantaged among the hardest hit. Implementing this new standard may help trigger layoffs nationwide, further impair U.S. economic competitiveness and add to inflationary pressures. It is ironic that, as concerns over our economy grow, EPA would shackle our nation’s counties and states with burdensome regulations based on weak science.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson called the new smog requirements “the most stringent standards ever.” He said they would require 345 counties — out of more than 700 that are monitored — to make air quality improvements because they now have dirtier air than is healthy.

Johnson said state and local officials have considerable time to meet the new requirements — as much as 20 years for some that have the most serious pollution problems.

“A more reasonable approach to improving our nation’s air quality is to enforce existing ozone standards,” Inhofe said. “That is why I introduced the Clean Air Attainment Enforcement bill in 2007. My bill focuses on getting areas with truly dirty air into compliance with existing law. The current 8-hour ozone NAAQS remains sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.”

Inhofe re-introduced his Clean Air Attainment Enforcement bill in July 2007. The bill would amend the Clean Air Act to strengthen penalties on major emission sources in the most polluted areas of the country that fail to meet clean air standards by the attainment deadlines under the current Clean Air Act.

The bill is a narrow amendment that targets only those areas of the country that are out of compliance with multiple pollutants and will not come into compliance by their attainment deadlines. By specifically targeting the dirtiest areas, Inhofe said his legislation ensures that the costs are reasonable in relation to the enormous health benefits.

Toxicologist Dr. Roger O. McClellan testified before the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety on July 11, 2007, stating: “In my professional judgment, the administrator’s ‘proposed decision to revise the existing 8-hour O3 primary standard by lowering the level to within a range from 0.070 to 0.075 ppm’ is a policy judgment based on a flawed and inaccurate presentation of the science that should inform the policy decision.”

In addition, Mayor George Grace of St. Gabriel, La., testified at the same hearing, expressing concerns over the potential tightening of ozone standards.

“EPA’s own data show that between 1970 and 2006, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 54 percent,” Grace said. “The National Conference of Black Mayors is committed to a clean environment and improved air quality for our communities. However, I’d like to stress that air quality is not the only thing that impacts the health of the people we represent.

“The health and welfare of our communities is also dependent on having good jobs, economic growth and the quality of life that goes with it,” Grace said.