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Reality Check: Wisconsin’s Air Quality Dramatically Improved

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Scott Manley
December 4, 2007

Southeastern Wisconsin businesses are on the verge of an immeasurable boost to the regionís economic competitiveness. Having met the federal air pollution standards for ozone, Gov. Jim Doyle has directed the Wisconsin DNR to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for removal of significant regulatory barriers to job creation.


If granted, the DNRís request will help level the playing field with competitors in other states. Yet, as we move tantalizingly close to achieving this long-sought goal, the EPA could sidetrack our progress by implementing a more stringent ozone standardómaking it more difficult for local businesses, including those in Rock County, to compete.


As we consider whether a tighter ozone standard is justified, an important fact must remain at the forefront: Wisconsinís air quality has improved considerably in recent years, and additional pollution reductions are on the way.


According to the DNRís own data, industry in southeastern Wisconsin has reduced ozone-causing pollutants by more than half in recent years, including a reduction of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by more than 50 percent in the past five years alone. As a result, we have witnessed a steady decline in ozone levels during the past few years, and have met the health-based standard for ozone in the entire metropolitan Milwaukee area.


While we are proud of these successes, industry is not done reducing emissions. Recently adopted air pollution rules will result in a 60 percent reduction in NOx emissions from power plants statewide, as well as additional NOx reductions from large manufacturers in southeastern Wisconsin. Combined with upcoming federal clean air standards for vehicles, Wisconsin will witness historic pollution reductions on top of the dramatic progress we have already achieved.


Despite this good news, the EPA has proposed a significantly more stringent ozone standard. In addition to being an unfair penalty in the face of improved Wisconsin air quality, the new standard would be devastating to jobs and regional economic competitiveness.


The EPAís new ozone standard would dramatically expand the nonattainment area, and the stigma that stifles economic expansion, to new areas such as Rock County. What would that mean? Despite the fact that much of our ozone drifts here from other states, manufacturers and power plants in Wisconsin would be targeted with expensive new pollution mandates that significantly increase the cost of doing business here.


Manufacturers, many of whom are facing intense global competition, would be forced to cut jobs to pay for the higher cost of electricity and additional regulatory burden. The EPA has turned a blind eye to Wisconsinís historic progress toward cleaner air and the substantial pollution reductions scheduled to occur in the future.


A new ozone standard would give current and prospective employers yet another reason to do business elsewhere. We simply cannot endure that level of economic disruption at a time when Wisconsin desperately needs to keep and attract high-paying manufacturing jobs.


Scott Manley is environmental policy director for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, 501 E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI 53703; phone (608) 258-3400; Web site www.wmc.org; e-mail smanley@wmc.org.

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