July | August 2017


 

 

 

 

 

States Face Regulation of New Ozone Emissions Rules

By Rebekah Fitzgerald, CSG Program Manager for Energy and Environmental Policy
North Carolina has exceeded the limits on emissions for ground-level ozone only once in the past two years.
That could change under a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is preparing to release a new rule lowering the ground-level ozone standard from 75 parts per billion, where it’s been since 2008, to an expected range of 70 to 60 parts per billion. The Council of State Governments will hold an eCademy session, “How Clean is Clean Enough: A Look at EPA’s Upcoming Ozone Regulations,” from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST Nov. 19.
Every five years, a new air quality standards review is required and as environmental groups in particular have noted, the revision is past due. Now, the EPA is under court order to release its draft proposal to the public by Dec. 1, and finalize it next year.
The revised ozone standards range of 70 to 60 parts per billion was recommended by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, a scientific panel that advises EPA in setting the national ambient air quality standards. The recommendation, reached after a review of the EPA’s Second Draft Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards, mirrors what the committee recommended in 2008.
In its recommendation letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the committee stated its “policy advice is to set the level of the standard lower than 70 (parts per billion) within a range down to 60 (parts per billion), taking into account your judgment regarding the desired margin of safety to protect public health, and taking into account that lower levels will provide incrementally greater margins of safety.”
While details about the upcoming rule proposal are still unclear, state air directors say whether the EPA sets the ozone at 70 or 60 parts per billion matters.
Sheila Holman, director for North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality, said if the standard was set at 70 parts per billion, the Charlotte area—the state’s largest population center—would be the only part of her state exceeding the limits. But if the standard is set at 60 parts per billion, all but two areas in the state would be in nonattainment areas, including “the mountains to the coasts,” Holman said.
Kentucky will see a similar trend, said Sean Alteri, director of Kentucky’s Division for Air Quality.
“If the standard is set at 60 (parts per billion), all 22 ozone monitors operated by the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and all 29 ozone monitors operated in the commonwealth will exceed the standard,” he said. “If EPA revises the standard to 70 (parts per billion), the major metropolitan areas in Kentucky will not meet the ozone standard. Currently, the ozone monitor at Mammoth Cave National Park is registering a design value of 70 (parts per billion).”
Tropospheric ozone—or ground-level ozone—is located up to seven miles from the earth’s surface and is a colorless, invisible gas. It is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are exposed to heat and sunlight. Both industrial sources, like storage tanks, and combustion sources—like heaters, engines, turbines and flares—can contribute to ground-level ozone.
Ozone is a human health and environmental concern, which can “complicate respiratory ailments at low level exposure and can cause permanent lung damage after long-term exposure,” said Alteri.
“Emission sources, existing or new, have to find offsets within a nonattainment area,” Holman said. “The worse air quality is in an area, more offsets are necessary. Some areas may have an emissions bank and offsets can be purchased, other areas may not.”
Ozone nonattainment areas are areas that exceed the minimum standards. A nonattainment area triggers states to submit a state implementation plan to the EPA outlining how the state air quality division plans to bring an area back into attainment. Bringing a nonattainment area back into attainment can cost existing industries money to retrofit or prohibit new industries from moving into an area.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national ambient air quality standards for ozone and other pollutants that allow for an adequate margin of safety to protect public health. While the EPA sets the standards, state air regulators must monitor the pollutants.
“States are responsible for making sure they meet minimum EPA standard requirements for criteria pollutants,” said Holman. “This means following a plan, setting up monitors, collecting data, conducting quality assurance for the data and ultimately submitting the data to EPA to compare for a particular standard.”
Officials believe reducing emissions won’t be easy and will be costly.
“One of the biggest challenges for states will be finding cost-effective emission reduction opportunities,” said Holman. “There are programs we use to reduce emissions already, but we also need to consider new emerging control strategies.”
By its own evaluation, the EPA estimates the cost of reducing ozone to 70 to 60 parts per billion ranges from $19 billion to $90 billion annually. Those estimated costs are significantly low, according to a study commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers, which claims the real cost is closer to $270 billion a year in addition to the estimated $2.2 trillion it will cost to bring manufacturing into compliance in nonattainment areas if the standard is set at 60 parts per billion.
Despite the steep price tag, the EPA is prohibited by statute to take costs into account in setting air quality standards. While the EPA may not be allowed to consider costs, the manufacturing industry is looking closely at the potential costs.
“EPA’s ozone proposal threatens to be the most expensive regulation in our nation’s history,” said Charlie Drevna, president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association representing high-tech American manufacturers of U.S. supply of fuels and petrochemicals. “Studies have shown that, if implemented, a lower ozone standard could lead to millions of jobs lost and could cost U.S. business hundreds of billions of dollars every year.
“Not only would that impact every American family, it would severely strain our ability to realize the full potential of the American manufacturing renaissance that we’re beginning to benefit from as the result of the shale boom. Furthermore, overly stringent ozone requirements will require more energy and increase (greenhouse gas) emissions, conflicting with other EPA regulations.”
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