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OTAG Makes Recommendations to EPA

Fortnightly Magazine - August 1997

of experts, however, would dispute those early numbers, says David Doniger, counsel to the EPA, assistant administrator for air and radiation. Doniger cites a study published by Resources for the Future that tackles another oft-heard figure of $150 billion annually for all environmental protection measures. It finds companies overstate expenses. "They're only spending 13 cents when they say they're spending a dollar," Doniger says.

Doniger also cites the acid rain program projections back in the 1990s: $1,000 to $1,600 a ton. "You can buy tons [now] for a shade over $100," he says. "Last year, the price was $67."

Of course, others might look to developments that caused the lower costs: the improved market for low-sulphur coal, lower transportation costs because of deregulated railroads, lower scrubber technology costs and more companies banking credits to build allowances for the future.

The Recommendation

While some have questioned how much OTAG has actually achieved, Chair Mary A. Gade of the Illinois Environmental Agency insists OTAG did its job. It compiled the best scientific and technical work on ozone transport. It logged the best emissions inventory, using "state-of-the-art" modeling. And it did air-quality analysis to understand which regions affect others and how to address that.

OTAG, started by the Environmental Council of the States and EPA, went to work after Nov. 15, 1994 when all the states except Louisiana failed to meet ozone standards under the Clean Air Act. Data showed significant movement or transport of ozone around the country, making it impossible for local regulators to address the problem.

The practical way to meet EPA's proposed standards would be to increase the number of ozone "non-attainment" areas, which currently includes most major U.S. cities.

OTAG did not take a position on the EPA's proposal, but took a mid-road stance, particularly on utility NOx control limits. Some states supported it; others came out against it. OTAG recommended EPA adopt a range between current Clean Air Act controls and the less stringent of either an 85-percent reduction from 1990 emissions levels or 0.15 lb/mm/BTU.

An April letter from Mary Nichols, Doniger's boss, likely influenced OTAG. Nichols wrote to Gade and said EPA earlier had concluded that states at the far edges of the OTAG region do not make significant NOx contributions. The implications were that there was not any reason to recommend new emissions controls in the outlying areas.

OTAG's recommendation practically leaves it up to each state to adopt their own level of controls, says Dennis McMurray, a spokesperson for Gade at the Illinois EPA.

Doniger recognizes that the recommended NOx range is large. "There are states and stakeholders which by no means have signed on to even the middle, let alone the top, of the range and there are others that are by no means ready to go along with the bottom of the range. ... What they're telling us ... [is] something from that range would be 'a credible decision.'"

OTAG also came out with what have been called "generic" recommendations for autos.

Utilities make up 39 percent of NOx emissions (em 21,815 tons