This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Amid fierce debate, the federal Environmental Protection Agency strengthened national ozone pollution standards in 2015. The move was billed by industry as one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever proposed, while public health and environmental advocacy groups argued that the new standard of 70 parts per billion wasn't protective enough of human health.
EPA science advisors had advocated for a standard between 60 and 70 parts per billion, preferring the lower end of that spectrum. Ultimately, the rule that the agency passed was weaker than what science dictated.
The public health data about ozone has been developed over many decades and is straightforward and compelling: It makes healthy people sick and causes the condition of sick people to worsen. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, ozone pollution has a "marked effect on human health" and "can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases."
Given the health effects of ozone pollution, and the fact that the 70 parts per billion standard itself was already a compromise, why is one of Utah's senior elected officials, Sen. Orrin Hatch, proposing a bill to weaken enforcement of our national ozone standards?
In a statement, Hatch claimed that "relaxing" the standards could "altogether avoid the negative economic job-killing consequences that come with a non-attainment designation."
Bold words – wholly unsupported by a single shred of evidence. The reality is that without action, Utah's ozone problem a growing menace to our families in the summer won't improve. And, ultimately, Utah's job growth will suffer if we don't take care of our environment and protect our communities.
This isn't the first time we've heard the type of tired rhetoric Hatch employed. For decades, now, every time new public health or environmental safeguards are proposed, industry and their allies claim these new regulations will push us to the brink of economic collapse, killing jobs and undermining economic development.
Their hyperbole is often absurd in retrospect. Before the Clean Air Act was first passed in 1970, a Ford Motor executive said it "could prevent continued production of automobiles" and was "a threat to the entire American economy and to every person." Last time I checked, cars and Americans still exist.
In 1990, when the EPA required a change in coolants to protect high-level ozone, a trade association representative told Congress, "We will see shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets. ... We will see shutdowns of chiller machines, which cool our large office buildings, our hotels and our hospitals."
Of course, this didn't happen.
In fact, here's what does happen: When science tells us it's time to take measures to protect our health, American engineers and corporations figure out how to do it. Time, after time, after time.
This has also been demonstrated locally here in Utah, where we've seen a steady strengthening of federal and state safeguards, while we've also experienced some of the strongest economic performance in the nation – proof positive that the two are not mutually exclusive. The EPA has tightened many standards, which forces business to adjust what they do, and we've still managed to attract new industries, jobs, families, and tourists. So although the mantra that environmental regulations kill jobs is convenient political rhetoric, it is patently untrue.
Delaying the implementation of an already watered down public health rule won't help our economy and it will certainly hurt our citizens. Perpetuating the false narrative that we must choose between jobs and health isn't just naïve, it's downright dangerous.
Ashley Soltysiak is the Policy Director of HEAL Utah.