Ozone Rule to Receive Expedited OMB Review

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Aug. 31 — The White House Office of Management and Budget will have just more than one month to review the Environmental Protection Agency's final decision on whether to revise or retain the current national ambient air quality standards for ozone in order for the EPA to meet a court-ordered deadline for signing the rule.

The EPA told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 31 e-mail that the agency will issue its final ozone rule by Oct. 1. The agency submitted the rule to the OMB for interagency review on Aug. 28.

The American Petroleum Institute, one of the most vocal opponents of the EPA's proposal to tighten the ozone standards, was quick to criticize the Obama administration for truncating the interagency review process. The trade association released a statement raising concern that the administration is “rushing” the ozone rule through a shortened review process.

“This is clearly a very significant rule in everyone's eyes,” Howard Feldman, senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the API, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 31. “It's surprising that the administration is trying to move this through with a 30-day review.”

Feldman said that such a major regulation would typically receive a 60-to-90-day review, if not longer.

Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education at the American Lung Association, was less concerned about the effect of the Oct. 1 deadline on the OMB review process, noting that the administration has “great familiarity” with the ozone standards. He described this rulemaking as an “opportunity for the administration to correct a major failing” after President Barack Obama in 2011 chose to halt the EPA's reconsideration of the 2008 ozone standards. The EPA later revealed it was prepared to set the standards at a level of 70 parts per billion as a result of that reconsideration process.

“This is not plowing ground that people are not familiar with,” Billings told Bloomberg BNA. “There is plenty of time to get this work done and completed.”

During a July hearing before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, Howard Shelanski, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said his office would conduct a “high-quality and rigorous” review of the ozone rule.

Advocates Plan for Meetings 

The EPA in November proposed (RIN 2060-AP38) to revise the current ozone standards of 75 ppb to somewhere in the range of 65 ppb to 70 ppb, a change the agency estimated could cost up to $16.6 billion annually while providing up to $38 billion in annual public health benefits.

That proposal was criticized by both industry groups, which have projected significantly higher economic costs than the EPA, and environmental and public health groups, which argued that the standards should be set no higher than 60 ppb in order to protect public health. Advocates on both sides told Bloomberg BNA in July that they planned to increase pressure on the administration, including plans to have many meetings with White House officials during the interagency review process.

Billings said he expected that the American Lung Association and other organizations would soon formally request meetings with the OMB on the ozone rule. He acknowledged that there could be some scheduling issues due to the short review window, but noted that even during longer reviews, the OMB tends to hold the majority of its meetings with outside groups near the end of the review process.

“There will be limited choices in scheduling, but they'll get it done,” Billings said.

Feldman said there will “obviously” be a push by advocacy groups to meet with officials with the OMB, though all of those meetings will need to be scheduled and occur within a manner of a few weeks.

Role of Other Agencies Raised 

Feldman said that meeting with advocates is only one half of the OMB review process, with other federal agencies also getting an opportunity to provide input on the ozone standards.

The ozone rule will have widespread effects on a variety of sectors, including agriculture, transportation and energy, Feldman said. There has to be enough time provided for those agencies, as well as economic advisers, to weigh in on the ozone rule, he said.

When asked whether there is time for the EPA's rule to be changed as a result of the interagency review process, both Feldman and Billings said that there should be.

“That is the role of the interagency review,” Feldman said. “We're presuming that they can take that [input from advocates and other agencies] into account.”

Billings said since there is time for a full review of the ozone rule, it is possible that the rule the EPA submitted could be strengthened, though he also acknowledged that there is an “opportunity for mischief” for opponents of stronger standards.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com