Who pays for ozone pollution?

If the WSJ (editors, of course. Red Tape Rising, March 21, 2008) is to be believed, the Bush administration has unleashed a last-minute flood of not only expensive but mis-guided regulations on America. Singled out for scrutiny is the modest reduction in allowable levels of man-made ozone pollution.

Echoing the fears of industry lobbyists, they worry for example that electricity will become more expensive. And why shouldn’t it? Why shouldn’t the polluter (ultimately the consumer of energy, be it an electricity customer, or car driver) pay for what is now a freebie — an externality.

The existing standard is 0.080 ppm, with allowances for occasional 0.084 readings, (why not just call it 80 or 84 ppb?) is to be reduced to 0.075 ppm, about a 10% reduction.

Maricopa county is likely to be pushed into the “unhealthful” range with the new standard, since it has been just barely passing the less stringent standard for several years.

A major source of ozone pollution is automobile engines (cite?), so a modest reduction in their use would easily allow Maricopa county to attain the standard. The air would be cleaner, everyone would be healthier, costs on the medical care system would decrease, and we would all be better off. But then why would drivers do that? Pollution is free — free to the polluter at least.

The deleterious effects of ozone exposure on human health are well known. See Health Effects of Ozone an Particulate Pollution, from the American Lung Association. In the Association’s “State of the Air: 2007” scorecard, Maricopa country rates letter grades of F (for high ozone) and D (for particulates).

In search of more specific info for Phoenix, I went to the Maricopa County Air Quality Department (MCAQD) website. They have a somewhat vague ozone facts. So I asked for more info and got this nice response:

As you may know, ozone is formed from a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of heat and sunlight.

Tailpipe emissions are a source of VOCs. Other pollution sources that help form ozone (in the presence of heat and sunlight) are power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents, etc.

For quantitative results on what pollution sources form ozone, I am attaching a PDF document. The first page is on PM10 or dust pollution so please disregard that. The other three pages are specifically regarding what you’re looking for. Since ozone is formed from a number of pollutants, we needed to look at each pollutant individually which is why there are three pages. Please make note of which pollutant is being measured on each page (CO, NOx, VOCs). These stats are the latest ones available. It often takes at least three years to compile the data which is why you see 2005 at the top of the document.

I hope this helps,
Erin Bruno
Maricopa County Air Quality Department

Anyway the attachment is a pie chart for each of the three precursors — and as expected “on-road vehicle” produced the majority of NOx, the largest (after biogenic sources) of VOC, and the largest (after “fire”, which I took to mean uncontrolled fires) source of CO.

The gang there that deals with such things is apparently called Planning &Analysis, Emissions Inventory Unit.

I found inventories for PM10 but not for ozone precursors(strange). Anyway, the PM10 inventory includes NOx, so there is lots of detail on that particular pollutant, including some interesting details about on-road (i.e. vehicle) exhaust. The “type” of vehicle, implies certain emission standards that vary wildly, between e.g. a LDGV and an LDDV (a Light Duty Gasoline/Diesel Vehicle, i.e. a car. Other LDxxx are suv’s and whatnot. Presumably HDxxx are heavy trucks), both apparently just plain cars is a factor of two or 3 depending on which particular toxic pollutant. This is all fed into an EPA computer model called MOBILE6.2, which takes into account VMT, vehicle speed, etc. The bottom line is the PM10 inventory says that on-road vehicles produce well over half the NOx (63 of 102 total tons/yr), and the next biggest category is a distant second.

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