Ozone Standard Expected to Bolster Case for Renewables

By Published On: September 14, 2007

California energy companies are likely to face increased pressure to increase their renewable supplies under a federal proposal to tighten the health standard for ozone, according to observers. According to an Environmental Protection Agency analysis, the agency’s standard is expected to cost billions of dollars a year to meet, but also could create significant health benefits. California air quality regulators support the cutting edge standard for protecting public health. “We concur that the current standards are not sufficient to protect public health,” said Jean Ospital, South Coast Air Quality Management District health effects officer. In the face of the new standards, environmental groups are expected to push regulators to require energy efficiency and renewable energy as air pollution control measures, particularly in the face of growing demand for energy. “If we’re talking about new power sources, renewables commitment is at the forefront,” said Martin Schlageter, Coalition for Clean Air campaign and advocacy director. “Show me you’ve exhausted your other options before you build new power plants.” The group is active in Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley. At the same time, air regulators recognize that meeting the tighter standard will create technical challenges. “The numbers are so low they’re not on our diagram,” said Don Hunsaker, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District plan development supervisor. He was speaking of data outlining pollutant emission limits needed to meet the current ozone standard. The district estimates it will take until 2023 to meet that standard in the valley. Hunsaker described the target as a “75 percent emissions reduction from today.” Efforts to elicit comments from the power industry were unanswered by press time. U.S. EPA is proposing to tighten its existing standard for ozone of 84 parts per billion averaged over eight hours to somewhere between 70 to 75 ppb. Tightening is needed, according to the agency, to protect the public against health effects of levels below the agency’s current ozone standard set in 1997. The agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee found to fully protect public health and the environment the agency ultimately may have to lower the ozone standard to 60 ppb. “America’s science is progressing,” explained Stephen Johnson, U.S. EPA administrator, when introducing the proposal in early summer. Yet, the agency acknowledges that the standard will be tough for California to meet. Because the state already is dependent upon technology considered not yet commercially available to meet the current ozone standard, U.S. EPA said it could not accurately estimate the cost of meeting the tighter proposed standard. In a regulatory impact analysis, however, it did provide an expected range of costs and benefits. The analysis showed: -The marginal cost of meeting a 75 ppb standard would run $6.2 billion a year in California. -The cost of meeting a 70 ppb standard is estimated at $12 billion annually. -Benefits from meeting the 70 ppb standard would be as high as $4.8 billion a year. The less-protective standard of 75 ppb would yield benefits of up to $2.7 billion annually. California regulators also expect it to be difficult and expensive to meet the standard for a number of reasons. New technology will have to be invented and perfected for the market. Also, human-generated emissions may have to be almost eliminated. Air hitting the California shore from Asia can have ozone levels ranging from 30-40 ppb, noted Hunsaker. Added to that are natural emissions from farms, forests, and urban trees and plants, which, he said, are extremely high in San Joaquin Valley. U.S. EPA expects to adopt a final revised standard by March 12, 2008. State and local air pollution control agencies would have to devise plans for meeting it by 2013. Then, the standard must by met in the most polluted areas, which include San Joaquin Valley and greater Los Angeles, by 2030. “Obviously, a tighter standard will require further emissions reductions, especially nitrogen oxides,” said Sam Atwood, South Coast Air District spokesperson. Ozone, a noxious gas that irritates the respiratory system and causes long-term lung damage with repeated exposure, is formed by a reaction in the atmosphere under sunlight of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, which largely are emitted from burning fossil fuel. The South Coast Air District and environmental justice groups also are pushing for clean up of motor vehicles with quick implementation of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which also would cut greenhouse gas emissions. The state should use global warming policies to leverage reductions in smog-forming pollutants, according to Angela Johnson Meszaros, chair of the California Air Resources Board’s Global Warming Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. California regulators are expected to further outline what may be needed to meet the tighter standards in comments to the federal EPA.

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