WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has introduced legislation to block the federal Environmental Protection Agency from implementing costly ozone regulations.

Manchin (D-W.Va) and U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced the Clean Air Strong Economies, or CASE, Act Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is a co-sponsor.

The lawmakers argue the agency’s regulations would increase energy prices, curb job growth and hinder economic opportunities by setting the ground-level standard at an unprecedented low level.

But CASE would stem the economic harm from a lower ozone standard by requiring the EPA to focus on the worst areas for air quality before lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, for ground-level ozone across the country.

NAAQS are outdoor air quality standards that measure the concentration of six main pollutants. In 2008, the permitted level of ground-level ozone or smog was lowered from 84 parts-per-billion, or ppb, to the current 75 ppb.

Counties that exceed the ground-level ozone standard are considered non-attainment areas and must implement expensive plans to reach compliance.

“I’ve always said we need to strike a balance between the environment and the economy, which is what this bill does,” Manchin said Tuesday. “Placing new, costly regulations on states when they have not had sufficient time to comply with the existing standards is unfair.

“Lowering the ozone standard would cost states billions of dollars and thousands of good-paying jobs.

“We need the EPA and our federal government to work with us as allies, not as adversaries who continually implement onerous regulations and move the goalposts before we even have a chance to comply.”

In November, the agency proposed lowering the ozone NAAQS from the current standard of 75 ppb to within the range of 70-65 ppb.

Currently, 227 counties in 27 states are considered in non-attainment with the current 75 ppb standard.

The CASE Act would require 85 percent of areas currently not meeting the existing 75 ppb standard to meet compliance before the EPA could lower it further.

Both Manchin and Capito argue the proposed limits would deal a “crippling blow” to West Virginia.

“With a price tag of more than $800 million per year in West Virginia, the EPA’s proposal to lower ground-level ozone limits will only weaken our state’s already troubled economy,” Capito said Wednesday. “Thousands of West Virginians depend on energy and manufacturing jobs to make ends meet.

“I cannot stand by and allow this administration to turn off the lights for the dozens of states that rely on West Virginia coal.”

Capito said even at 65 ppb, 34 of West Virginia’s 55 counties likely would be out of attainment.

Under CASE, the EPA also would be required to consider the costs and feasibility of the lower standard, which, Manchin notes, the agency currently does not consider.

Finally, the bill would prohibit the EPA from using unreliable modeling to expand non-attainment areas to hundreds of rural counties that otherwise would not be impacted by the regulation.

According to Manchin’s office, industry estimates indicate that a 65 ppb standard would lead to 1.4 million fewer jobs per year, reduce annual GDP by $140 billion and shut down approximately one-third of all coal-fired power plant capacity.

“This would have a tremendous impact on rural areas, which depend on coal as an affordable and reliable source of energy production,” Manchin and Thune said, noting the cost of compliance is the heaviest in their home states.

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, is introducing a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

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