Baton Rouge Metro Council to weigh in on federal air quality standards / The Times Picayune

Baton Rouge’s Metro Council is being asked to weigh in on controversial new air quality restrictions proposed at the federal level.

Council member Buddy Amoroso is planning to put forward a resolution at the Oct. 8 council meeting that would state the council’s opposition to the new standards being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s proposal has drawn fire from Louisiana business groups, which say tightening the standards significantly would devastate the local manufacturing industry just as the state is on the cusp of an economic boom.

Current EPA regulations set ozone emission standards at 75 parts per billion. Baton Rouge has only recently reached that standard, down from levels around 110 or 120 parts per billion in the 1970s, said Iain Vasey, executive director of business development at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

The EPA’s new proposals could set the standards as low as 60 parts per billion.

“No sooner than we have achieved that (75 parts per billion) number, than the EPA is saying, nationally, we’re going to lower that number again,” Vasey said.

Amoroso said it’s likely not possible for the local industry to get the ozone emissions down to the lowest levels being considered by the EPA. According to a report by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Association of Manufacturers, dropping the standards would cost Louisiana $189 billion in compliance costs, $53 billion in gross product loss between 2017 and 2040, and 117,000 jobs.

“We don’t know if it’s even possible to get it, especially to 65 (parts per billion), and that’s our concern,” Amoroso said. “That the industry has done everything that it can do, and it would really be an extreme hardship upon our city and our parish if they were to lower these standards.”

However, supporters of tightening the standards say it would better millions of peoples’ health. Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade environmental advocacy group, previously told | The Times-Picayune that the industry is resisting change that could do “enormous social good.”

“These people (business groups) should be leaders, they should be visionaries. They shouldn’t be people who are trying to draw us back into the days of bad health all in the name of industry,” Rolfes said in July.

The EPA has said discussions about economic impacts are premature at this point, because it hasn’t officially announced any changes.

“History has proven time and time again we can reduce pollution — and grow the economy at the same time. Over the past 40-plus years, we’ve cut air pollution by more than 70 percent and in the same time GDP has tripled,” a statement from the agency read.

Amoroso’s resolution would state the council’s opposition to the proposed federal standards, and encourage officials to develop more flexible ways for the manufacturing industry to reduce emissions: For example, loosening restrictions on how “emissions credits” can be used, so that a plant can meet its requirements by buying credits, while the money could be used to transition a local bus system like CATS to compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles.

Vasey said the approach to improving air quality has to be done in a careful way, particularly since much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

“The easy things for improving air quality have been, in many cases, done,” he said. “We need to think about how to continue the progress we’ve already made, in a thoughtful way.”

There has been debate in the past about whether the Metro Council should involved in state and federal issues. Amoroso, for example, was one of the council members who voted earlier this year against a failed resolution that would have encouraged the state legislature to strike unconstitutional sodomy language from the state’s laws. At that time, he said it was a state issue that the council shouldn’t get involved in.

Amoroso said this resolution is different because the EPA is actively seeking comments, and he believes this issue is one that directly affects Baton Rouge.

“I have voted against issues that I felt were purely state issues,” Amoroso said. “I’m the first one that’s opposed to resolutions just to make people feel good. We are in a comment period, and I want the Metro Council to go on official record that we’re opposed to lowering these standards.”

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