EPA proposes 2015 state, local, tribal NAAQS implementation rules

The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed requirements for state, local, and Indian tribal air agencies implementing the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone. The Nov. 2 proposal largely retains and updates implementation requirements that applied to the 2008 NAAQS to create a stable planning process, EPA said.

EPA said it is seeking public comments on a number of issues, including:

• Nonattainment area classification thresholds and deadlines for areas to attain the 2015 ozone standards.

• Milestone compliance demonstrations to address reasonable further progress requirements.

• Planning and implementation deadlines for reasonably available control technology.

• Consideration of pollution sources within a state but outside of a nonattainment area for purposes of attainment planning.

• Reconsideration of the optional ozone NAAQS trading provisions for pollutants that react to form ozone, which would allow either volatile organic compounds (VOC) or nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions reductions to satisfy nonattainment New Source Review permitting emissions offset requirements for increases in VOCs or NOx emissions.

• Requirements for emissions inventories and emissions statements.

EPA said it also is seeking comments on other topics, including managing emissions from wildfires and wildland prescribed fires, transportation conformity and general conformity, contingency measures, international transport and background ozone, and additional policies for achieving emissions reductions. It will accept comments for 60 days following the proposal’s publication in the Federal Register in the next few days.

Responding to the proposal, US Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe said the guidance was timely, but the proposal failed to accommodate the fact that the 2008 implementation guidance was issued almost 7 years after the rule became final.

“States have made tremendous progress and continue to improve air quality, but are once again facing a new ozone standard based on questionable assumptions and the prospect of a nonattainment designation,” Inhofe said Nov. 3.

“Counties that are on the path toward compliance should not be penalized with the consequences of nonattainment which include lost investment and reduced economic expansion due to increased regulatory burdens, stiff federal penalties, lost highway dollars, restrictions on infrastructure investment and increased costs to businesses,” Inhofe said.

Regional, state, and local officials expressed frustrations with the program at three hearings which the committee held, he indicated. It also reviewed two bills—S. 2882, which committee member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced on Apr. 28, and S. 2072, which Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) introduced on Sept. 24, 2015—which Inhofe said would provide solutions to persistent problems in EPA’s NAAQS program.

States’ specific issues

An official at the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air quality regulators, noted that while NACAA welcomes the Nov. 2 proposal, it has long held that that EPA should propose implementation rules at the same time a final NAAQS is promulgated—in this case, autumn of 2015.

“Nonetheless, we look forward to studying the proposal and providing meaningful input, particularly on issues such as classifications and thresholds, transitioning from the 2008 ozone standard to the 2015 ozone standard, and international transport and background ozone,” NACAA Deputy Director Nancy Kruger told OGJ in a Nov. 4 e-mail.

Kruger said state and local air agencies also need from EPA clear commitments, and corresponding timely action, on several other fronts. “These include strong federal rules to reduce emissions from nationally significant sources—mobile and stationary—and substantial resources to maintain and improve the nation’s deteriorating ambient air monitoring networks,” she said.

A House bill to delay the EPA’s implementation of a 70-ppb ground-level ozone limit under the 2015 NAAQS drew nearly as much fire as its implementation process did at a US House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing this past Spring (OGJ Online, Apr. 20, 2016).

Janet McCabe, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, expressed concern in a written statement that HR 4775’s enactment would stall a cooperative process with US states that has worked in the past, and make people living in areas that fall below the limit breathe unhealthy air for 10 years or longer.

The Western Governors Association reiterated concerns in August that EPA’s 2015 NAAQS is likely to push parts of the West into nonattainment based on high levels of uncontrollable background ozone (OGJ Online, Aug. 12, 2016).

“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,” WGA’s chairman, Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), and vice-chairman, Dennis Daugaard (R-SD), said in a letter to EPA and White House officials.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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