Opponents have also recruited members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and local African-American groups, among others, in a bid to build a local-level opposition campaign and get the issue in front of lawmakers during the August recess.
"Common sense; does it exist in our nation's capital?," asks a National Association of Manufacturers television ad running this week in Wisconsin. The ad goes on to say the new rules will "stifle our economy and kill millions of jobs" and highlights opposition from states and mayors.
Environmentalists say the ads are full of exaggerations and are a desperate attempt to derail much-needed regulation, but the flurry of attention shows how significant the ozone rule is. It would lower the legal limit of ground-level smog pollution and require state and local governments to limit pollutants that create ozone, such as manufacturing and transportation emissions.
The timing of the push seems odd—the EPA isn't required the finalize their rule until Oct. 1 and the environmental community has largely been focused on the landmark rule putting limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants, the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda.
But the ozone rule occupies a massive space in the environmental lobbying war. Industry groups say it's the most expensive regulation that the administration will undertake, with effects that would ripple across the economy. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say it's a public-health necessity and are determined to protect it, especially since the White House pulled the plug on tightening the standard in 2011.
While the White House has given no indication it's going to reverse itself this time, the business lobby is holding out hope that by pushing on soft-purple states, they can build up a groundswell to make history repeat itself. Or, at the very least, they can put the screws on vulnerable members to pass legislation limiting the standards.
"Counties and localities are going to be hit over and over again on an economic basis, and we want everyone to understand that," said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. "We're rolling this out where the discussion has been most intense "¦ and ultimately we'd like to take this to all 50 states."
The EPA last year proposed lowering the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb after agency scientists said the current mark was not sufficient to protect public health. The rule is set to be finalized this fall.
Public-health groups are pushing for the EPA to look to the low end of the standard. The EPA has said tightening the standard would avert nearly a million asthma attacks, thousands of cases of acute bronchitis, and up to 180,000 missed work days by reducing pollution-related symptoms.
But industry groups say anything lower than the current standard would plunge the country into nonattainment status, opening counties and states up to costly fines. They say the country has already lowered ozone levels by more than 30 percent since 1980 (coming after standards from the Clean Air Act went into effect), and that more stringent regulations would put a stranglehold on the economy, especially for areas already out of compliance.