The US House Energy and Commerce Committee approved, by a 30-23 vote along party lines, legislation to help states implement federal ground-level ozone limits. HR 4775, which Rep. Pete Olson (R-Tex.) and five cosponsors introduced on Mar. 17, now heads to the full House floor for final consideration.
“This bill is not about changing the fundamentals of the Clean Air Act (CAA); [it] recognizes a simple fact. States and EPA need more time,” Olson said following the May 18 vote. “Ozone levels continue to trend in the right direction. My bill simply provides needed flexibility so that states and localities can achieve new, lower standards with time for compliance.”
As markup of the measure began, Rep. Frank R. Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), the committee’s ranking minority member, said, “The bill’s sponsors say the goal of this legislation is to facilitate a more efficient implementation of [the US Environmental Protection Agency’s] National Ambient Air Quality Standards by states. But let’s not pretend that the legislative changes in this bill are simply tinkering around the margins of the [CAA]. This is a radical change, and weakening the protections of the law won’t make air pollution go away. All told, these provisions constitute an extreme attempt at systematically weakening the fundamental protections that the [CAA] provides to the American people.”
EPA announced last fall that it would reduce allowable ground-level ozone limits to 70 ppb from the 75 ppb level it set in 2008 (OGJ Online, Oct. 1, 2015). Oil and gas industry trade associations and other major business groups immediately said it went too far. Environmental and public health organizations claimed it did not go far enough.
The committee’s majority leadership said that HR 4775 would extend the data for final designation under the 2015 standards to 2025, and established a phased schedule for states still working on implementing the 2008 requirements to complete their efforts. They said it also would:
• Change the mandatory review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards from 5 to 10 years, while allowing the EPA Administrator discretion to issue revised standards earlier.
• Allow the EPA administrator to consider technological feasibility as a secondary consideration when revising NAAQS.
• Ensure that the EPA administrator, prior to revising NAAQS, obtains advice from the agency’s scientific advisory committee regarding potential adverse effects relating to implementation of the standards, as required by CAA Section 109.
• Ensure the EPA administrator issues timely implementation regulations and guidance when revising NAAQS.
• Ensure that for certain ozone and particulate matter nonattainment areas, states are not required to include economically infeasible measures in their plans.
• Ensure that states may seek relief with respect to certain exceptional events, including droughts, under CAA Section 319.
• Direct EPA to submit reports to Congress regarding (i) the impacts of foreign emissions on NAAQS compliance and related matters, including the agency’s current petition process under CAA Section 179B; and (ii) ozone formation and effective control strategies.
A National Association of Manufacturers official applauded the committee’s action. “Last year when the administration released its final ozone rule, manufacturers were concerned by the extreme cost, unresolved problems relating to issues like background ozone and the new burdens placed on manufacturers,” NAM Senior Director of Energy and Resources Greg Bertelsen said.
“Now leaders in the House are taking action to address many of these concerns,” Bertelsen said. “As this legislation passes one more milestone, we encourage all members of the House and Senate to listen to the concerns expressed by manufacturers, state regulators, and hundreds of other business organizations, and work to provide much needed relief from this burdensome regulatory program.”
Contact Nick Snow at firstname.lastname@example.org.