JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources wants to join a Mississippi lawsuit that seeks to overturn a new Environmental Protection Agency rule that reduces the acceptable amount of air pollution.
In March, the EPA issued tougher standards for ozone, requiring airborne concentrations be lowered from 84 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion. The federal agency’s scientific advisory panel recommended going even further, lowering the acceptable amount of smog to 60-70 parts per billion.
DNR Director Doyle Childers said Thursday that the EPA’s new ozone rule could hamper Missouri’s economy without actually lowering smog in the state. He said regulators should “look before they leap” to consider nonhuman ozone factors and whether tougher blanket standards will actually reduce ozone levels.
“It’s something that we don’t know for sure yet, and before you go out and spend all of these resources, we may be wasting a considerable amount of them,” Childers said. “If there’s an economic impact and no results (in lowering ozone levels), it makes you look: Was that the best action?”
Mississippi filed its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But that state is not alone in its displeasure with the new rules.
Environmental and health groups — such as the American Lung Association — Washington, D.C., New York City and more than a dozen states, including neighboring Illinois, also have sued. But they argue that the new standards don’t go far enough and endanger public health and the environment by being too lax.
A lawyer representing one of the suing environmental groups, Earthjustice, has said that the EPA’s revised ozone standard failed to protect Americans’ lungs and the nation’s environment.
The Missouri DNR filed its request to intervene in Mississippi’s lawsuit Wednesday, but that was two days after a court deadline. Childers said his department sought to intervene after asking Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office to enter the case.
Nixon’s office Thursday released a letter dated June 23 from the attorney general to Childers. In that letter, Nixon stated the department already had voiced its objections to the EPA and has not stated any basis for continuing to challenge the ozone requirements.
In its request to join the Mississippi lawsuit, the Missouri DNR argues that the new ozone standard “translates into oppressive costs on private industry” without enough proof that the new requirement will protect public health or make the air cleaner.
According to EPA data, the average ozone concentration from 2003-05 exceeded federal limits in St. Charles County. But under the new lower requirements, Cedar, Clay, Jefferson, Platte, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve counties and the city of St. Louis also would have missed federal standards.
Childers said additional efforts that would be needed to hit the lower pollution requirements could mean a significant burden for the state and its businesses.
“Jobs are going to be at risk,” he said. “It has a very major economic impact.”