NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Pursuing Ozone At Any Cost

January 5, 1996

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering imposing a new air quality standard requiring lower levels of ozone measured over a longer time. A stricter standard would increase the cost of complying with the Clean Air Act, but the health benefits, if any, are unknown.

  • The current standard defines an area to be in "nonattainment" if, on just four days of a three-year period, any monitor registers a concentration above 0.12 ppm for a one-hour period.
  • Using estimates from the Office of Technology Assessment, every dollar of benefit derived from compliance with the current ozone standard costs consumers and taxpayers between $3.30 and $5.10.
  • Further reducing some of the reactive gases from automobiles and industrial sources that produce ozone by 40 percent by the year 2005 would cost approximately $10.9 billion annually, in 1994 dollars.

However, the Clean Air Act prohibits policymakers from considering economic costs versus benefits when setting air quality standards. Instead, the act requires that the standards for ground-level ozone ensure an "adequate margin of safety" against "any adverse health effects," regardless of cost or whether the ozone is natural or manmade.

  • Defining adverse health effects is difficult, since at low levels of exposure to ozone, most people suffer no effects and any measurable effects usually disappear after a few hours.
  • The National Research Council estimates that under the right weather conditions, vegetation alone forms enough ozone on some days to exceed the current standard in some areas.

The number of days that cities are in violation of the current ozone standard has declined over the last decade by 57 percent. But under the proposed standard of 0.08 ppm measured over eight hours, the EPA estimates 67 additional cities would be defined as having dirty air and one-third would record 10 or more violations of the standard each year.

The EPA reports 71 areas (excluding California) currently fail to meet the standard. However, their figures include data from 1988, an unusually hot summer. If the EPA used 1991-93 data, only 28 of those areas would have failed to achieve the standard.

Source: Kenneth Chilton and Christopher Boerner, "Smog in America: The High Cost of Hysteria," Policy Study No. 128, January 1996, Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, Campus Box 1208, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, (314) 935-5630.


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