Under increasing pressure from the Courts, EPA announced on June 14th its proposed revision to the federal air quality standard for fine particles (microns less than 2.5). The last standard was 15 ug/m3 which was established in 1997. EPA is now proposing to lower the standard somewhere between 12 and 13 ug/m3.
Back in 2009, the Court overturned EPA’s proposal to keep the standard at 15 ug/m3. Since that time various groups have been trying to force EPA to promulgate a new standard.
In May, the District Court of Columbia had granted a motion for preliminary injunction sought by the American Lung Association, other environmental groups and the States. The case is American Lung Association et al. v. EPA, No. 1:12-cv-00243-RLW (D.D.C.). The order resulted in EPA accelerating release of its proposed standard.
Background on Federal Air Quality Standards (National Ambient Air Qulity Standards- NAAQS)
Counties that fail to meet the federal air quality standard are designated "non-attainment." Under the Clean Air Act, non-attainment areas face more difficult air permitting requirements for larger air sources which can deter economic development.
In addition, each state must develop a plan (called a "State Implementation Plan" – SIP) to meet the federal standards. The SIP must demonstrate that a mix of federal and state air pollution regulations will allow each of the counties in the state to meet the standard. The SIP process often results in state’s implementing new pollution control requirements which increase compliance costs.
States that fail to meet the deadline for attaining the standards face sanctions from EPA.
Ohio’s Progress in Meeting the PM 2.5 Standard
Due to its relatively high population and manufacturing base, Ohio has always faced challenges in meeting air quality standards. Ohio still has areas that have failed to properly demonstrate compliance with the 1997 fine partcle standard.
Below a is chart from a presenation by Ohio EPA from March which shows current monitoring of air quality in the major cities in Ohio:
It is worth noting that an improvement of 1 ug/m3 is quite significant.
The Chart shows Ohio’s air quality is improving. However, even if EPA picks the high end of the range and sets the new standard at 13 ug/m3, the State will have a number of counties designated as non-attainment areas.
U.S. EPA says they will make designations of counties in December 2014 with non-attainment designations will become legally effective in early 2015. States will be given until 2020 to comply with the standard.
National Progress in Meeting the Standard Hinges on Proposed EPA Rules
U.S. EPA projects that only a couple of counties will be out of attainment by 2020.
However, this projection is based upon a major assumption- all currently proposed federal air pollution rules remain effective. Many of these rules are highly controversial and face legal as well as political challenges. The federal rules EPA considered in place for purpose of the modeling include: the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (power plans), the Mercury and AIr Toxics Standard (power plants) and various emissions standards for vehicles, aircraft, locomotives and ships.