Western governors reiterate concerns over EPA’s lower ozone limits

The Western Governors Association reiterated concerns that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce ground-level ozone limits under the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) will likely push parts of the West into nonattainment based on high levels of uncontrollable background ozone.

Oil and gas trade associations and other business organizations have raised concerns about background ozone problems under EPA’s new ozone limits.

“Tightening ozone standards could increase costs to the American public, reduce America’s ability to compete internationally, and threaten American jobs,” according to American Petroleum Institute’s web site. “The recent study by NERA Economic Consulting found that a stricter ozone regulation could reduce US [gross domestic product] by $270 billion/year and $3.4 trillion from 2017 to 2040 and result in 2.9 million fewer jobs or job equivalents/year on average through 2040.”

In an Aug. 11 letter to EPA and White House officials, WGA’s chairman, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), and vice-chairman, Dennis Daugaard (R-SD), said, “We strongly urge EPA to adjust criteria to properly account for events that contribute to background ozone concentrations, which are impossible for states to control.”

EPA’s October 2015 plan to invoke the Exceptional Events Rule and reduce allowable ground level ozone limits from 75 ppb to 70 ppb is undergoing White House review. The US House approved a bill by 234 to 177 votes in early June, largely along party lines, which Republicans said would give the states more time to implement new federal limits, and Democrats said would gut the Clean Air Act (OGJ Online, June 9, 2016).

The CAA obligates all states to develop state implementation plans (SIP) to attain and maintain the NAAQS, the letter noted. SIPs are intended to reduce pollution from sources over which states can exert control, but not natural or international sources that can increase background ozone levels, it said.

“Such events and conditions include wildfire, lightning, biogenic emissions, stratospheric ozone intrusion, and transported ozone from international and interstate sources,” the letter said. “These events may be discrete (such as a wildfire or stratospheric intrusion) or may present as a periodic or ongoing condition (such as transported ozone). All result in emissions over which states have no control.”

The letter said that Western governors believe the states—and, in turn, EPA—would benefit from a more holistic approach under which states could aggregate multiple ozone-contributing factors to prove a single exceptional event exceedance demonstration.

“Under such an approach, there would be no onerous requirement to differentiate and quantify contributions of various background sources or to utilize multiple CAA provisions to account for various background ozone contributors,” the letter said. “The focus would be on showing that these sources, rather than controllable manmade emissions, are the principal contributing factor in a monitored NAAQS exceedance.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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