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Oklahoman Editorial: Smog, drilling proposals need measured scrutiny
January 12, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey matt_dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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Oklahoman

Editorial: Smog, drilling proposals need measured scrutiny

OUR VIEWS - Suggested new rules troubling

Published: January 12, 2010

Link to Editorial


MEMO to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department: The U.S. economy remains weak as a kitten, unemployment continues to be measured in double figures and a number of economists are worried last year's recession could be followed by another dip.

It's the unavoidable context to a pair of potential job killers proffered last week by EPA and Interior. EPA wants to toughen the government's standard for smog, while Interior is proposing stricter standards for oil and gas exploration on leased public lands.

In both cases, the rub is the eternal conflict between a universal desire for a healthier environment and the need for economic health - which also is critically important to Americans' quality of life. Obviously it's hard to eat well and afford necessities like health care without good jobs, and too often it seems environmental decisions are made without appropriately considering their potential collateral economic impact.

Sen. Jim Inhofe makes this point about EPA's proposal for a stricter smog standard - changing the allowable concentration of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion, adopted by the Bush administration in 2008, to 60 to 70 parts per billion. The proposal "will keep unemployment high and put another Washington-based regulation in the way of economic recovery," said Inhofe, R-Tulsa.

The proposed standard would put at least 15 Oklahoma counties, including Oklahoma County, out of compliance, Inhofe said, potentially resulting in "severe restrictions on growth and economic development."

EPA estimates the cost of implementing its proposed standard would be between $19 billion and $90 billion by 2020. Affected counties and states would have up to 20 years to meet the new standard, depending on their level of noncompliance.

The government said the proposal would yield benefits worth between $13 billion and $100 billion in saved emergency room visits, premature deaths and missed school and work days. Unfortunately, the projected benefits claim sounds too much like the administration's "jobs saved or created" economic statistic - easy to assert, near impossible to quantify.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wants stricter environmental standards on drilling. "We don't believe we ought to be drilling anywhere and everywhere," Salazar said.

Interior says its proposal would bring greater consistency within the government on leasing decisions while also engaging the public more - resulting in fewer leases being contested in court. But industry groups fear new layers of bureaucracy that would slow development of resources on federal lands across the West.

In both cases, the public has a right to understand the detailed cost-to-benefit ratio of what is being proposed. We hope Congress, which is better connected to public sentiment, applies common-sense scrutiny to each.

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