July | August 2017






States Eye Challenges with EPA’s Proposed Ozone Regulations

By Clint Woods, Executive Director, Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies
Hundreds of thousands of comments were submitted from states, nongovernmental organizations, trade groups, companies and citizens before the March 17 comment period deadline for a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten national standards for ground-level ozone under the Clean Air Act.
Based on the recommendations of EPA’s science advisers, the agency’s rulemaking would lower the existing National Ambient Air Quality Standard—also known as NAAQS—for ozone from 75 parts per billion to between 65 and 70 ppb.
Originally proposed Nov. 25, 2014, a more stringent standard has been decried by manufacturers as potentially the most expensive regulation in U.S. history, but has been defended by the EPA and environmentalists as an effort to improve public health for susceptible populations.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA administrator must evaluate the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and five other air pollutants every five years and set a level that is “requisite to protect the public health” with an “adequate margin of safety.” Ozone is a unique pollutant, as it is naturally occurring but also forms when precursor emissions—such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted from factories, power plants and other sources—combine with sunlight.
State governments have a keen interest in the outcome of this regulation as their environmental agencies will need to develop and implement plans to meet the revised standards or face significant economic consequences. The Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies, which represents state and local air quality agencies, and CSG have compiled state and local environmental agency comments online.
Nearly all states have weighed in on EPA’s proposed new ozone standards during the 90-day comment period, and several concerns and themes have emerged.
Progress in Ozone Pollution
EPA and state air pollution control agencies agree that there has been dramatic improvement when it comes to ozone in the U.S. According to the agency, national ozone levels have dropped by one-third since 1980. Jonathan Steverson, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, underscored that progress,
“Emissions in Florida are at their lowest levels since DEP began recording them in the 1980s,” he stated in comments submitted to EPA. “Ozone precursor emissions ... have decreased over 50 percent in the last decade and 14 percent since 2010.”
David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, echoed that sentiment in comments submitted on behalf of his agency stating, “the result of these efforts is evident in the fact that all ozone monitors in the commonwealth are now in compliance with the standard.”
Implementation of the Existing Ozone Standard
Many states and localities raised concerns about establishing a tougher standard while they are just beginning to implement existing ozone air quality standards. Although the EPA administrator established the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion in 2008, implementation regulations for that standard were finalized only last month.
Barry Stephens, director of the Division of Air Pollution Control at Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation, called that lag time, “disruptive to air quality management agencies,” and called on EPA to issue implementation guidance when they revise the standard so states have “a reasonable amount of time to act upon the NAAQS revision.”
Similarly, joint comments from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and National Association of Regional Councils cited “financial and administrative burden[s]” in asking “EPA to delay implementation of a new standard until the 2008 standard is fully implemented.”
Background Ozone and Achievability of a New Standard
EPA acknowledged when it published its proposal that, in addition to human contributors, ozone “can come from other sources, including natural sources, such as stratospheric intrusions or wildfires, or emissions transported from other countries. … In some locations, there may be days when background ozone is a significant proportion of local ozone concentrations.”
Many state and local agencies said a more stringent standard would result in violations due to uncontrollable or natural sources of ozone. Joint comments filed by the states of Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming suggested, “EPA has not fully considered western background issues,” and highlighted findings from a group of atmospheric scientists that compliance may be difficult or impossible as a result.
Disagreement on the Health Consequences
States differed in their views of EPA’s public health-based justification for an ozone standard between 65 and 70 parts per billion.
Officials from Delaware’s Division of Air Quality recommended that EPA “establish the standard no greater than [65 ppb] because such a level would be more protective of public health.” On the other hand, Commissioner Thomas W. Easterly of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said, “there have been few new health studies and no compelling evidence that indicate lowering the standards would have any overall impact on public health.”
Michael Honeycutt, director of the Toxicology Division at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, argued that, “increased regulatory costs make nearly all goods and services more expensive, particularly energy. … For poor Texans (and many poor Texans are elderly Texans), being able to keep their home cool on hot and humid summer days has a real health benefit.”
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