EPA's Decision to Deny Ozone Petition Based in Reality

Combating ozone pollution is really about time.  When I was back at Ohio EPA, we had countless meeting discussing how Ohio could (or whether it could) accelerate progress dramatically in reducing ozone pollution.  During that time we would discuss "on-the-books controls" versus new state initiatives.  

"On-the-book controls" referred to a suite of federal air pollution regulations that were put in place to help combat air pollution, including ozone.  The regulations target the two largest contributors to ozone pollution-vehicles and power plants.  The "on-the-books controls" include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in over time greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 15 years as the vehicle fleet turns over. In addition, CSAPR has just emerged from litigation and the full reductions have not taken place.

What we learned in our discussions eight years ago was that the state's had almost no ability to significantly reduce ozone pollution beyond what would be attributable to these federal regulations. At the time, the deadlines for compliance simply didn't match up with the process for phasing in the federal regulations.  The states needed time.  

Flash forward almost 8 years later and it appears those federal regulations are having a dramatic effect on reducing ozone.  The picture above is taken from a story on Gizmodo regarding improvements to air quality in the last decade.  (Click here to see the very cool video showing reductions).

EPA Denies Request for Redesignation of Attainment Areas for Ozone Standard

On August 14, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy denied the 2013 Sierra Club petition that requested U.S. EPA to redesignate as nonattainment 57 areas for violations the 2008 national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) of ozone.  

Under EPA regulations, ozone levels are based on a three year average of the 8-hour ozone concentration.  The concentrations are averaged because weather plays an important role in the creation of ozone (i.e. hot summers = more ozone).  The averaging is intended to smooth out the variations that may occur due to weather.  

In the Administrator's McCarthy's letter denying the petition, she says one of the reason for the denial is to give the states more time.  She specifically cites forthcoming reductions due to federal regulations already in place.  

EPA states that emissions of the ozone precursors are expected to decline significantly:

  • NOx is expected to decline by 29 percent from 2011 through 2018; and
  • VOCs are expected to decline by 10 percent from 2011 through 2018

(Click here for EPA's extended response setting forth the reasons for denying the petition)

EPA's decision to deny the petition was sharply criticized by environmental groups.  However, redesignation to nonattainment would force the states to adopt additional reductions beyond these federal "on-the-books" controls.  Those state regulations are no where near as cost effective at reducing ozone pollution and would likely not significantly improve air quality.

EPA decision to give time to the states to allow federal regulations to take hold is based upon practical reality.  The last decade has shown dramatic improvements.  More reductions are locked in and the states would have little ability to accelerate those improvements.

 

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