After 7-year delay, EPA should fully implement current ozone standard

On March 12, 2008, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone at 75 parts per billion (ppb) – the most stringent ever. Last week, EPA finally completed the implementation requirements for states.

The rules include deadlines for submitting plans, emission control technologies to be used, and processes for states to show compliance. EPA has pledged to “continue to work closely with states, tribes and communities to provide assistance in implementing the 2008 ozone standards.”

EPA’s announcement is long overdue. States have waited seven years for final implementation rules for the current standard. In the meantime, permitting agencies and manufacturers have been in limbo – confused, at times, about the requirements for projects such as new facilities, expansions, and factory restarts.

Unfortunately, such delays are common. In recent years EPA has tightened a number of NAAQS without fully implementing them. In addition to ozone, examples include nitrogen dioxide and sulfur oxides in 2010 and fine particulate matter in 2012.

So, having finished the rules for the 2008 ozone standard, the obvious next step is for EPA to allow states time to come into compliance, right? Surprisingly, no. Just three months ago, EPA proposed a new, even more stringent ozone NAAQS of 65-70 ppb. But parts of 26 states covering a population of more than 120 million people still don’t comply with the 2008 standard.

It makes no sense for EPA to be considering a lower ozone standard before finishing the job on the current standard. With air quality improving, maintaining the current standard would enable further reductions in emissions while supporting U.S. manufacturing growth. As EPA points out:

Ozone pollution has been declining in recent years. From 1990 to 2013, the U.S. has experienced a 23% decline in national average ozone concentrations.

Many states will be unable to meet a lower ozone standard, and the impacts will be broadly felt. In ‘nonattainment areas,’ manufacturing projects will be more costly and complex. Small businesses will be forced to buy and install special equipment instead of investing that money in their business. Highway projects will have to conform to certain standards before receiving federal funds. Households will face increased vehicle fees and inspections and restrictions on wood-burning fireplaces and lawn mowing. Los Angeles even has regulations for backyard barbeques.

Thankfully, in its proposal, EPA said it will accept comment on retaining the current ozone NAAQS of 75 ppb. The Administration has gone to considerable trouble to develop and issue final implementation rules for the current standard. We hope they become a blueprint for action.

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