Warning, state threat: Inhofe rips EPA ozone proposal

By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe increased his own alert Wednesday on an ozone proposal, warning "virtually the entire state" of Oklahoma would fail to meet new air quality standards suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last month, the Oklahoma Republican's initial warning covered only Tulsa and a dozen other Oklahoma counties.

Inhofe announced his broader assessment at a subcommittee hearing on the proposed smog regulations whose witnesses included EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

In his opening remarks, he directed Johnson's attention to a map showing the "tremendous progress" Oklahoma has made in cleaning up its air.

"Not a single county in Oklahoma is in violation of the ozone standards. Not a single one, Mr. Administrator," Inhofe said.

"Yet your proposal will put virtually the entire state into nonattainment. How is it that EPA last year considered states like Oklahoma to have clean air that was healthy to breathe, yet next year it will consider the air unhealthy, even as their pollution levels continue to plummet?"

In an interview following the hearing, the senator explained why
he upped the ante on EPA's proposal to include the entire state.

He said the original list covered only counties where monitors are located, adding those counties would be considered out of attainment immediately under the proposed regulations.

"The monitors are scattered out. They are not all in one area," Inhofe said.

"In almost every case, the surrounding counties (of those monitored) would be included."

He said with the possible exception of Cimarron and Texas counties, located in the state's Panhandle, the entire state would be in nonattainment.

"It would happen pretty quick," the senator said.

As the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe routinely takes the lead on such issues for his party.

"I am embarrassed," he conceded.

"You would think as the ranking member I could do something about this."

Inhofe expressed regret that he was no longer chairman of that key committee.

"Quite frankly, if the Democrats had not taken control and I were still chairman of the committee I would seriously doubt we would have that problem," he said.

Inhofe also accused EPA of not enforcing current regulations uniformly and pointed to the area of southern California as proof.

When asked, EPA did not respond directly to Inhofe's specific concerns.

The agency provided maps that apparently indicated the number of counties with monitors that would be out of compliance if the new standards were in place today and those that would be in 2020.

Tulsa County seemed to be only one that EPA could say for certain would continue to be out of compliance.

During his testimony at Wednesday's hearing, EPA chief Johnson said the current standard does not protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety and should be strengthened to provide additional protection, specifically for those with asthma and other lung diseases.

If the proposed changes are put in place following public comments, Johnson said his agency would work with states on meeting the new standards.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., the subcommittee chairman, commended Johnson for proposing the new standard. A former governor, he spoke of the costs dirty air presents for the entire nation.

Inhofe and Carper have each introduced clean air legislation.