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Editorial: Proposed EPA smog regs too onerous for the state

New smog reduction regulations could sweep across the nation Thursday if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowers the ozone-producing emission limit – triggering significant new requirements, particularly in Western states.

The EPA is proposing to again lower the standard, this time from the current 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb, although environmental groups want the limit even lower at 60 ppb.

State officials and business leaders say the costs, particularly in border states like New Mexico, will be crippling. Environmentalists dispute the point and say the critics are overlooking possible reduced costs associated with improved health from better air quality.

Business and industry interests and some state governments, including New Mexico, want the standard left unchanged, pointing to an expected negative impact on business, employment and transportation.

If the standard is lowered, at least one half, and possibly up to two-thirds, of New Mexico’s 33 counties would be out of compliance, according to the New Mexico Environment Department, creating a significant negative impact on New Mexico’s economy and making it difficult for new businesses to get permits or for existing businesses to expand.

An industry-backed study says EPA’s proposal of 65 ppb could cost U.S. businesses and consumers nationwide about $140 billion annually and eliminate 1.4 million jobs.

A different industry assessment puts the total cost of compliance to New Mexico at $7 billion and says an additional $6 billion could be lost in GDP by 2040 and more than 11,000 jobs a year could be lost.

Further, compliance may be impossible to attain because of the state’s high elevation, where increased interaction of sunlight, heat and pollutants create excellent conditions for producing smog. And state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn says the majority of smog-causing ozone in New Mexico comes from pollution drifting in from neighboring states and from Mexico.

However, environmental groups blame local industry, particularly oil and gas producers, manufacturing and urban emissions from vehicles and other sources in the state’s cities. They also dispute industry cost estimates and predict reducing smog will improve New Mexicans’ health and cut medical bills, outweighing the cost of compliance.

The EPA should recognize that one size does not fit all regions of the country. It should offer some relief to New Mexico and other Western states that have geographical challenges beyond their control.

What is needed is a common sense approach to cut through the dense cloud of rhetoric and provide a solution that will protect the airshed and citizens’ health, while not putting New Mexico’s employers out of business and reducing the state to an even lower level of poverty – which has its own set of problems, including health.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.