Manufacturers say EPA proposals would halt expansions

HOUSTON — Proposed federal rules governing the release of pollutants threaten the future of the manufacturing sector, the industry’s top Washington lobbyist told a Houston audience Wednesday.

Jay Timmons, who spoke at Rice University,  leads the National Association of Manufacturers. The trade group says industry is making strides to rebound in the wake of the recession and today has grown to contribute $2 trillion in activity to the U.S. economy annually.

But Timmons, the association’s president and CEO, said the industry is under threat from proposed U.S. Environmental Protect Agency rules designed to reduce the output of pollutants associated with ozone.

“Nationwide, this standard could shut down manufacturing facilities and force manufacturers to scrap expansion plans – all of which harm growth,” Timmons said.

He said the ability of manufactures to build or modify facilities in Houston and other non-attainment areas, which have air quality below federal standards, would be “pretty well nullified” if the rules took effect.

John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental group, said it’s  “hyperbolic nonsense” to say the rules will shut down manufacturing.

He said he has confident in the industry’s ability to develop solutions to comply with tougher environmental rules. “Businesses will tackle air pollution with the same ingenuity they have in the past,” Walke said.

In November, the EPA proposed strengthening its air quality standards for ground-level ozone, saying higher standards would improve public health, especially for children, the elderly and asthma-sufferers.

The proposed rules would require states to develop and implement plans to meet revised standards that govern emissions of nitrogen and other compounds that contribute to the creation of ozone.

The standards would save the country billions of dollars per year, according to the EPA, by preventing as many as 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; 180,000 missed days of work and 1 million missed school days from health problems associated with ozone.

The agency argued that current ozone standards aren’t adequate to protect public health based on new research conducted in recent years.

Timmons said, however, that existing environmental rules and other regulations cost small manufactures as much as $35,000 per employee annually. That number could rise in the face of more stringent environmental regulations.

Walke, of the NRDC, said federal law dictates that the EPA base its health standards on public health, not on businesses’ compliance costs.