Prior legislator Pryor Gibson attacks proposed EPA ozone regs

Former Rep. Pryor Gibson. Image from N.C. Forestry Association
Former Rep. Pryor Gibson. Image from N.C. Forestry Association

Former Rep. Pryor Gibson. Image from N.C. Forestry Association

RALEIGH – Former Democratic legislator and Perdue adviser Pryor Gibson penned an op-ed in the New Bern Sun-Journal over the weekend blasting the Obama administration’s pursuit of “unnecessarily low” air quality standards for ozone after analyzing the EPA’s proposed stricter standards. In the opinion piece, which ran two days before EPA chief Gina McCarthy is set to speak in Raleigh, Gibson cites a study showing that stricter regulations would cost the state $42 billion by 2040.

Gibson, from Wadesboro, served in the legislature from 1989-1990 and 1999-2011 and served as an adviser for Governor Beverly Perdue. He now works for the N.C. Forestry Association.

Gibson says that North Carolina “can’t take the hit” of the stricter standards, which the EPA has proposed to tighten from the existing 75 parts per billion (ppb) to between 65-70 ppb. If set at the more stringent end of that range, the study Gibson quoted says 77 counties in North Carolina would be out of compliance. All North Carolina counties meet the existing standard.

While Gibson focused on the economic effects of tighter standards, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has voiced concerns about proposed ozone levels from a scientific standpoint.

DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart, who holds a PhD. in chemical engineering and spent two decades as a supervisor in the N.C. Division of Air Quality, called the proposed standards “troubling.” He wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in March that he agreed with an EPA scientific review committee that there was “concern about the uncertainty of the science that is the basis for determining whether a revision to the ozone standard is necessary.”

When the proposed rule was unveiled in November 2014, McCarthy said that the EPA was using the latest science, and that lowering the standard would “clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk.”

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

McCarthy, who holds degrees anthropology, environmental health engineering and public policy, said the proposal “empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”

Gibson points out that North Carolina’s air quality has improved vastly over the last few decades. He notes that North Carolina did not have one “Code Red” ozone day for all of 2014.

According to state regulators, the last time the state saw a summer with multiple days with an air rating in the worst three categories was 2008, when three days were rated “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy,” or “hazardous.” That trend is down dramatically from 1998 and 1999, when 27 and 29 days, respectively, rated in the unhealthy categories.

 

Ozone data from the N.C. Division of Air Quality