[NOTE: THIS POST WAS REVISED BASED UPON ADDITIONAL REVIEW AND INFORMATION] The unpopular automobile tail pipe test known as E-check may resurface in Cincinnati under a U.S. EPA proposed rule. Right now, Cleveland is the only area in Ohio with E-check because the area is under a federal mandate to operate the test. That federal mandate could expand under a recent U.S. EPA proposal.
E-Check has operated in Ohio since 1995. It operated for 10 years in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dayton. The program was always very unpopular with the general public. Efforts to discontinue the program were instituted in the Ohio General Assembly on numerous occasions. Finally, improving air quality and expiration of the 10 year contract allowed both Cincinnati and Dayton to get rid of E-Check back in 2006. In November 2008 U.S. EPA issued final approval of the removal of E-Check as a control measure for both Cincinnati and Dayton.
Now E-check may see a resurgence.
U.S. EPA has proposed modifications to the implementation rule for the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. The implementation rule was issued back in 2004. The rule was challenged by a group of environmentalists. In 2006, in response to the challenge, a federal court vacated certain portions of the rule. U.S. EPA has now issued a revision to the implementation rule in response to the Court decision.
One of the main components of the rule vacated by the Court was the manner in which U.S. EPA classified certain areas under the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. Some areas with lower ozone levels were classified as Subpart I areas and higher ozone areas were placed under Subpart 2 of the Clean Air Act. The distinction between Subpart 1 and 2 areas greatly affects the amount of flexibility these areas have in designing the air pollution control plans to comply with the 8 hour ozone standard.
U.S. EPA attempted to place as many areas under Subpart 1 to provide the greatest degree of flexibility. Of the 126 areas designated nonattainment, 84 were classified as under Subpart 1, and the remaining 42 as under Subpart 2. Areas under Supart 2 are further broken down by severity of ozone. The higher the ozone the higher the classification, The higher the non-attainment classification the more federally mandated control programs and restrictions will apply to the area. (see next post for a chart on Subpart 2)
Under the old rule, Cleveland fell under Subpart 2 and was classified as a "moderate" non-attainment areas. "Moderate" non-attainment areas are federally mandated to operate a basic vehicle inspection and maintenance program (I/M program). Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus and other areas of the state were classified under Subpart I which carried no federal mandate to run an I/M program like E-check.
Under the proposed rule, all areas designated non-attainment with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard will be classified under and subject to the requirements of Subpart 2 of the Clean Air Act. If an area has already reached attainment with the 1997 8-hour standard the rule will not apply. This means Dayton will not be covered under the rule as it has already achieved compliance. However, areas like Columbus and Cincinnati which have yet to comply with the 1997 8-hour ozone standard risk being reclassified as Subpart 2 non-attainment areas.
Under the proposed rule, EPA would make retroactive classifications based upon 2001-2003 air quality data, not the latest readings which show notable improvement in ozone levels. If EPA maintains this aspect of this proposal, some areas of the Country will be playing a game of high stakes poker with regard to meeting the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. EPA states:
Marginal nonattainment areas would have a maximum statutory attainment date of June 15, 2007 and moderate areas a maximum date of June 15, 2010. Since the marginal area attainment date has passed, EPA proposes that any area that would be classified under the proposal as marginal, and that did not attain by June 15, 2007…would be reclassified immediately as moderate under the rule.
What EPA doesn’t specifically address but flows from the statement above is that areas that do not meet the June 15, 2010 deadline as a moderate areas face being bumped up to the "serious" nonattainment classificaiton. This would not only bring E-check, but a host of stringent federal requirements.
Appendix A to the proposed rule identifies the proposed Subpart 2 Classification for areas likely covered by the rule. Under the proposal, both Columbus and Cincinnati will be classified as "moderate" non-attainment areas. The "moderate" designation carries with it the federal mandate to operate an I/M program.
Columbus and Cincinnati could avoid I/M programs if they can fully attain the 1997 8-hour ozone standard before this rule would become effective. How do things look?
Columbus: Ohio EPA has submitted a redesignation request for Columbus which is still under review by U.S. EPA. Ohio EPA says that the current air quality data from 2005-2008 shows Columbus with a .08 ppm ozone design value. This is well under the .084 ppm necessary to show compliance. If recent ozone trends continue Columbus could be redesignated before U.S. EPA finalizes its proposal thereby avoiding any of the complications brought on by the proposed rule.
Cincinnati: Ohio EPA submitted a redesignation request for Cincinnati. However, unlike Columbus, Ohio EPA relies on modeling and not real air quality data in its request for redesignation. Real air quality data in the SIP submittal shows a design value of .086 ppm. Even the updated air quality information for 2005-2008 shows Cincinnati with a .085 ppm design value. While modeling may show .084 ppm, real air quality data does support the modeling estimates. The 2009 ozone season could really be make or break for Cincinnati. If its a bad ozone season, Cincinnati may not only face the return of E-check but a "serious" non-attainment classification which would bring a host of consequences.