Farm Counties in Non-Attainment

Proposal Could Hurt Productive Farms

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Ozone isn't usually visible, but areas where that is emitted at a high rate may have to tighten things up, which many in the industry will be expensive. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Farmers in several Illinois counties could have to reduce emissions as part of proposed stricter ozone standards being proposed by EPA.

Twenty-one Illinois counties would be classified in "non-attainment" if the tighter ozone standards are put in place, according to a new study. Some of those counties in the heart of the state's agriculture industry include some of the largest corn and soybean production areas in the country.

Counties nationally are dealing with the EPA proposal. Many believe the push to reduce ozone emissions from 75 parts per billion to 65 parts per billion is an unachievable goal.

A study by the Center for Regulatory Solutions focuses on Chicago-area counties as the areas of the state most affected by an EPA proposal to tighten ozone standards. However, several prime agriculturally productive counties stand to be in non-attainment. That could require farmers to take steps to reduce emissions as part of broader plans to cut ozone.

The report said EPA's ozone rule "would be the most expensive regulation in history, could cause significant economic harm in Illinois -- triggering substantial job cuts, reduced business spending, and economic uncertainty as manufacturing companies scramble to comply."

The report said several ag-based counties would be in non-attainment at 70 ppb, including the corn powerhouses of Champaign and McLean counties in the central part of the state. Other ag counties that would be in non-attainment include Peoria, Macon, Sangamon, Macoupin Jersey, Madison, St. Clair and Hamilton in southern Illinois. Those counties combined for about $69 billion in state gross domestic product, according to the report, or about 11% of the state's total GDP.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the national ambient air quality standards every five years.

Although U.S. farmers are considered to be relatively small contributors to ozone pollution, a proposal to further tighten federal standards likely would hurt the industry, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in comments submitted in March on the proposal.

According to an EPA analysis of the rule, http://tinyurl.com/…, tightening the ozone standard to 65 ppb would generate health benefits estimated at between $19 billion and $38 billion annually. EPA said the standard would prevent between 710 and 4,300 premature deaths by 2025.

Back in April Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese testified before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Environment, that a stricter ozone standard would harm agriculture.

"This proposed standard means greater costs to our producers and for smaller operators who operate on a very thin margin that is already impacted by unpredictable forces such as Mother Nature," he said in his written testimony. "Those increased costs can result in the decision to quit farming. Having to retrofit a combine, or tractor or generator is expensive and for a farmer who never knows for sure what price they will receive for their commodity, it is challenging to take on more expense to work towards a standard that may be unattainable."

EPA's plan would require states to offset ozone-forming emissions from new transit or highway projects or projects "undergoing major modifications" by reducing emissions from other existing sources in non-attainment areas.

Ambient air standards have a long history of litigation practically every time EPA proposes a change. Several industries sued after the 2008 revisions, causing EPA to withdraw them, which brought a spate of litigation from groups and states demanding EPA tighten the standards. A 2013 appeals court decision required EPA to factor in an "adequate margin of safety" to protect against uncertain and unknown dangers to public health. Thus, the appeals court told EPA to determine a secondary standard level that protects public welfare.

Read the Illinois study here, http://tinyurl.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley