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Airing Concerns

Proposed EPA rules on air quality standards have some small businesses gasping for breath.

Proposed EPA rules on air quality standards have some small businesses gasping for breath.

Chemicals and soot aren't the only air pollutants of concern in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) hotly contested rule-making on ozone and particulate matter levels in the atmosphere. Political rhetoric quickly reached suffocating levels in Washington as soon as the EPA issued its proposed rule in
November.

Trade associations and lobbying groups nationwide immediately sent out broadsides condemning the EPA and noting the likely apocalyptic impact on small business of reducing the ozone standard from .12 parts ozone per million parts air (ppm) measured over one hour to .08 ppm measured over eight hours, and of reducing the size of particulate matter (PM) that would be regulated from 10 microns or smaller to 2.5 microns.

But more than a few small-business hands in Washington were quick to point out that the new standards would affect only a few small-business sectors: service stations/convenience stores, restaurants, trucking companies and some construction businesses. It is big business that is much more likely to be hurt, particularly by the PM standard, which could require the Fortune 500 crowd to spend substantial sums on new controls for factory combustion sources.

The majority of small businesses, if impacted at all, will be hurt indirectly. Mary Bernhard, manager of environment policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says cities that will become ozone nonattainment areas as a result of the new standards will have to consider transportation reduction measures that could significantly impact local economic development. This might translate into shopping centers not being built, the end of free parking at shopping malls, and bans on drive-thru service at local restaurants.

EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner has gone out of her way to emphasize that she is open to public comments from small business on the new standards. She seems to be laying the groundwork so she could retreat on the ozone standard if politics so dictated. "They potentially left themselves some wiggle room," agrees Bernhard.

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This article was originally published in the March 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Airing Concerns.

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