Tighter Smog Standards Could Raise Home Building Costs
Although it is still being negotiated with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed revision to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone, once finalized, will likely increase the number of communities required to create plans to reduce industrial smog, including that generated by home building.
EPA has proposed reducing the level of smog from 0.08 parts per million to somewhere in the range of 0.075 to 0.070 ppm, and its advisory committee has recommended lowering the level to 0.060 ppm.
This is the first time the agency has sought to revise the ozone standard since 1997, although the EPA estimates that ozone levels have dropped by 21% since 1980.
Lowering the ozone NAAQS to 0.070 would place 33 new metropolitan areas on the agency’s non-attainment list, including 19 of the top 20 housing markets as well as small markets like Topeka, Kan. and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (For maps indicating areas that are non-attainment today and that would be non-attainment under the revised standard, click here.)
In comments to the EPA in November, before the rule was delivered to OMB, NAHB emphasized that tightening the ozone emission standard would exert upward pressure on residential construction costs and take a disproportionate toll on small businesses. The agency is not required to consider such costs.
Low-level ozone, or smog, is produced when nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds are exposed to sunlight and heat. In the home building industry, they are produced by diesel construction equipment. The pollutant can aggravate asthma and other lung dysfunctions.
The proposed revisions to the standard reflect new scientific evidence about ozone and its effects, according to the EPA. For people with heart and lung disease, it has been associated with increased respiratory infections, hospital admissions and premature deaths.
Industrial facilities and electric utilities emissions, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are the major man-made sources contributing to elevated ground-level ozone, according to the EPA.
“Non-attainment” areas must develop a “State Implementation Plan” (SIP) to reduce emissions of pollutants to meet the required smog level. In formulating these plans, some jurisdictions have suggested banning the use of diesel equipment during the daytime, while others have levied impact fees on subdivisions to mitigate projected emissions from the vehicles of future home owners.
Beyond these examples, SIPs must include requirements for state- and federally-funded road projects to reduce traffic congestion, adding time and uncertainty to these projects, which in turn can hold up development planning and entitlements.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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