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Ozone in focus: a hot-button topic, especially in California

For any California reader of our environmental law blog who just might be looking for a lively and debate-friendly topic from within that subject area, try air emissions.

More specifically, focus on ozone standards, a topic that is virtually guaranteed to engender strong and polar opposite opinions on both sides of a starkly divided line.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just waded into the ozone fray last week, when it announced new national smog standards, lowering limits on ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion. That limit will supplant the higher number of 75 that was enacted as law back in 2008.

Few people seem truly happy with the outcome.

On one side, many environmental advocates say that the EPA stopped short of where it needed to go.

"The big polluters won this time," says the president of one clean-air group.

Not true, counter many business industry groups and principals. One lobbying organization called the new standard "a punch in the gut" to commercial interests. One national legislator called the EPA's move "the last straw for our fragile company."

The lowered ozone mandate will not be realized at once, obviously, with states being given some time to collect data and take measures to curb pollution. The EPA estimates that the country will have fully complied with the new requirement by 2025, with one exception.

That is California, where ozone is a singularly large problem. Federal regulators are giving the state an additional 12 years -- until 2037 -- to reach compliance.

The EPA states that savings that will accrue from healthier air will outweigh compliance costs to businesses by a 4-1 margin.

Many business leaders are not so sure of that, of course, noting that the price to comply will be steep, indeed.

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