EPA gives final thumbs-down to ozone proposal

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 2, 2017

Almost four years after getting the request, U.S. EPA has rendered its verdict on Northeastern states’ proposal for a historic expansion of a regional ozone control program: No.

The final decision, contained in a rule signed late last month by EPA chief Scott Pruitt, rejects the December 2013 petition by Connecticut and eight other states to add all or part of another nine states as far west as Illinois to the Ozone Transport Region.

The final rule follows the Obama-era draft issued in January, which concluded that there are more efficient ways to deal with ozone-forming emissions that add to compliance challenges in downwind states (E&E News PM, Jan. 13).

Pruitt signed the rule, now awaiting publication in the Federal Register, in time to meet a court-ordered deadline. Publication will open the 60-day window for the filing of any legal challenges to the decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is a lung irritant linked to asthma attacks in children and worsened breathing problems in people with long-term respiratory diseases. It is formed by the reaction of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in sunshine. The Ozone Transport Region, created by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, currently encompasses all or part of a dozen states and the District of Columbia; members are supposed to take extra steps to reduce the spread across state lines of ozone and the pollutants that create it.

In its 2013 petition, the nine-state coalition had argued that emissions from areas outside the region were undercutting its ability to meet EPA’s 2008 ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. At an April public hearing, regulators from New York, Connecticut and Delaware had all urged EPA to grant the petition (E&E News PM, April 13).

In the final rule, however, federal officials largely stuck to their initial position, pointing to relief that’s potentially available through “good neighbor” requirements that give regulators flexibility to target polluters that contribute to interstate ozone problem and other mechanisms. Use of those remedies will allow states to meet the 2008 standard “without the need to implement the additional requirements that inclusion in the OTR would entail,” the rule said.

The rule also cited a Clean Air Act provision that allows states to petition EPA to crack down on individual pollution sources outside their boundaries that are contributing to ozone compliance issues.

A top Delaware regulator has called EPA’s record in addressing those petition “abysmal.” Maryland and Connecticut are both suing the agency for failing to act on their petitions by a statutory deadline. New York last week formally threatened EPA with another lawsuit for allegedly missing a separate deadline to require Virginia and four other states to come up with final good neighbor plans (E&E News PM, Oct. 26).

EPA representatives have declined to comment on active or possible litigation. While implementation of the 2008 ozone standard is continuing, EPA in 2015 tightened it to 70 ppb.