DC Circuit Court agrees with Western Energy Alliance, EPA

On June 2, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals rendered its decision in Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality vs. EPA, determining that the US Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) appropriately did not designate the Uinta Basin, Utah, as non-attainment for ozone.

Western Energy Alliance was a defendant-intervenor in the case supporting the EPA in its decision to designate the basin as unclassifiable. Plaintiffs WildEarth Guardians et al. had asked the EPA to violate the Clean Air Act (CAA), arguing that unreliable monitoring data should be used when designating areas for National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“WildEarth Guardians and the co-plaintiffs attempted to force the EPA to make an ozone non-attainment designation based on monitoring data that did not meet Clean Air Act standards,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs. “Western Energy Alliance intervened in the case and was instrumental in helping the State of Utah and the counties convince the judge that the EPA, in fact, did follow proper CAA procedures to ensure that only high-quality data are used to make ozone designations.

“In an attempt to stop oil and natural gas development, the environmental groups were foolishly asking for a precedent to throw out CAA requirements and allow the use of poor-quality data. Western Energy Alliance and our member companies that operate in the basin have played a pivotal role in supporting scientific study of ozone in the Uinta Basin for over three years and voluntarily reducing ozone precursor emissions. We’ve worked collaboratively with the EPA, the State of Utah, the Ute Tribe, and the counties to improve air quality in the basin, and the proof is in; there has not been a high ozone reading in the Uinta Basin since December of 2013. In the meantime, the environmental groups have engaged in a lawsuit rather than engaging constructively in the process.”

The Uinta Basin experienced elevated ozone levels in the winter of 2010, as detected by industry-funded monitors. EPA quality-assured monitors were not in place until 2011. The CAA requires three years of quality-assured data before a full designation as “attainment” or “non-attainment” for ozone can be made. The environmental groups tried to convince the court that the EPA should have made a designation in 2013 before three full years of quality data were available.

The fact that a non-attainment designation has not been made does not mean that industry, the EPA, the State of Utah, the Ute Tribe and the counties have just been passively waiting for a designation. The entities worked constructively on a three-year academic study along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to understand the formation of winter ozone, an issue that regulators and scientists had largely ignored as ozone had been viewed as an urban, summer problem. The EPA and the Utah Division of Air Quality have also enacted new regulation, and oil and natural gas companies have implemented many voluntary measures to reduce ozone precursor emissions and protect public health in the basin. As a result, Utah has documented reduced air emissions in the basin and there has not been a high ozone reading since December of 2013.

Western Energy Alliance, founded in 1974 as the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, is a nonprofit trade association representing more than 450 companies engaged in all aspects of environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West.

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