API: EPA should heed cities’ inability to meet current ozone limits

New US Environmental Protection Agency data, which show states and cities are having trouble meeting current ground-level ozone limits, cast doubt on their ability to meet stricter requirements the agency is considering, an American Petroleum Institute official said.

“EPA clearly understands that many municipalities need more time to implement the current ozone standards, and yet the agency continues its heedless rush to lower them further,” said Howard J. Feldman, API regulatory and scientific affairs senior director.

“In findings published in the Federal Register, EPA recently found that 19 metropolitan areas need more time to attain the 2008 ozone standards, and will give these jurisdictions—which include St. Louis; Washington, DC; Cleveland; Pittsburgh; and Philadelphia—more time,” he told reporters during a Sept. 18 teleconference.

The fact that current standards, which Feldman said are the strictest ever imposed, are working even though they have not been fully implemented adds to the absurdity of its scientific advisors’ position that they need to be reduced, he said.

“The nation’s air is getting cleaner and will continue to improve as states implement the existing standards,” Feldman said. “Even EPA agrees with this, and it is another reason to let the current standards work.”

Under a review required every 5 years, EPA is considering reducing allowable ozone levels under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which measure ground-level ozone formation, from the existing 75 ppb to a 65-70 ppb range. It is expected to announce a decision on Oct. 1.

When EPA released monitored ozone data from 2014 recently, it showed that 217 of the nation’s 3,000 counties were measured or projected to be out of attainment or in metropolitan areas that do not meet the standards in the 3 most recent years, Feldman said.

“Lower those standards to 70 ppb, the number of counties in nonattainment would jump to 958, a fourfold increase,” he said. “And if the administration lowers the standards to 68 ppb, as some reports have suggested, the number of counties in nonattainment would climb to 1,433—nearly half of the nation’s counties or county equivalents.”

Asked about possible impacts on oil and gas activities, Feldman said API thinks these would grow as allowable ozone limits decreased. “In effect, this would limit the ability to expand and increase production,” he said. “Many refineries are in areas which often don’t meet standards, and would need to buy offsets costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It also would affect production of cleaner gasolines.”

He said API plans to raise compliance difficulties under existing standards and problems under proposed levels when they meet Sept. 25 with officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget. “When the rule comes out, anyone who wants to litigate has to file within 60 days,” Feldman said. “I’m sure we’ll consider our options and make our decisions.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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