After years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Nov. 26 that it is proposing to strengthen the federal ozone air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb), while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The current ozone standard, set in 2008, is at 75 ppb.
The proposal would greatly increase the number of counties that face “nonattainment” — thereby triggering the formation of state implementation plans (SIPs) to reduce ozone emissions. EPA maps show that 358 counties would violate a 70 ppb standard, based on 2011-2013 monitoring data. An additional 200 counties would violate a 65 ppb standard, raising the total to 558 counties. (To see an EPA map of the areas/counties out of compliance with the current 2008 ozone standard, click here.)
Industry groups have billed the new ozone proposal the most expensive regulation ever; the National Association of Manufacturers has put the costs at $270 billion a year. However, by law, EPA must set the air quality standard based on what the best science says is safe to breathe, and not on how much it will cost to get there. (The law provides for cost considerations in other areas of implementing pollution rules.) Still, EPA said the economic benefits would outweigh the costs by a wide margin.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency based its 626-page proposal on an “exhaustive, open and transparent” review of the latest science on the public health impacts of ozone pollution. Both EPA’s science advisers and its technical staff earlier this year recommended that EPA set a new standard in the range of 60 to 70 ppb based on recent data about the public health impacts of ozone. The agency was set in 2011 to tighten the standard to that range, but the White House pulled the proposal before it was finalized.
Construction companies will feel the effects of tighter ozone limits, mainly via restrictions on equipment emissions in areas with poor air quality (direct impact), as well as additional controls on industrial facilities and planning requirements for transportation-related sources (indirect impact). Notably, nonattainment counties that are out of compliance with CAA ozone standards could have federal highway funds withheld.
EPA also proposed to set the secondary ozone standard, a limit that’s meant to protect plants and other environmental attributes, at the same level.
EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by Oct. 1, 2015.
Ground-level ozone pollution is formed when nitrogen oxides emitted by a host of industrial and mobile sources react with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight.
To view the proposal, visit EPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/glo/.
For AGC’s latest Federal Air Quality Standards Update, click here.