EPA Proposal Would Allow More Flexibility For States to Implement Ozone Plans

By Andrew Childers  


Under a proposed rule released May 30, the Environmental Protection Agency would give states the option of completing their entire ozone air quality implementation plans within 30 months or submitting the requirements piecemeal by the deadlines stipulated in the Clean Air Act.

The proposed rule sets out the implementation requirements for the national ambient air quality standards for ozone of 0.075 part per million averaged over eight hours set in 2008.

EPA said submitting all of the state implementation plan requirements within 30 months after an area has been designated under the ozone standards would be “a more coordinated and less burdensome planning process” for state regulators, requiring only one public notice period for all the required elements.

States still would have the option of submitting their SIP elements separately. The reasonably available control technology (RACT) plan would be due two years after an area's status has been designated, while reasonable further progress plans would be due within three years or four years, depending on the severity of the ozone problem.

The proposed rule would amend 40 C.F.R. pts. 50, 51, 70, and 71.

36 Areas in 'Marginal' Nonattainment

In April 2012, EPA designated 46 areas as not being in attainment of the 2008 standard (77 Fed. Reg. 25,363; 43 ER 1142, 5/4/12).

The agency designated 36 of the 46 areas as being in “marginal” nonattainment, which means they have until Dec. 31, 2015, to meet the ozone standard.

Marginal areas are subject to less stringent air quality planning and emissions control requirements and the shortest attainment period, compared with the other categories.

EPA designated three areas as “moderate” nonattainment, two areas as “serious,” three areas as “severe,” and two areas as “extreme.” The attainment dates for those categories are 2018, 2021, 2027, and 2032, respectively.

EPA is proposing several measures that would give states additional flexibility in demonstrating they are making progress toward achieving the ozone standards.

Some nonattainment areas with moderate or more severe ozone problems also would have the option of substituting nitrogen oxides emissions reductions for all or part of a requirement to reduce volatile organic compound emissions by 15 percent within six years as part of their reasonable further progress plans as part of the proposed rule. Volatile organic compounds react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to form ozone.

“We believe that, given the improved scientific understanding of the formation of ozone, it makes sense, wherever possible, to allow states to credit toward the [reasonable further progress] requirement those reductions that an area most needs to reach attainment,” EPA said.

Substitution Allowed of Nitrogen Oxides Reductions

Even if EPA does not finalize the nitrogen oxides substitution provision for the entire country, it will allow areas in the northeastern Ozone Transport Region that are subject to the 15 percent volatile organic compounds emissions reductions requirements for the first time to substitute nitrogen oxides reductions, according to the proposed rule.

EPA also is proposing allowing states to use alternate methods to demonstrate achievement with the reasonable further progress requirements.

One alternative would allow states to demonstrate compliance through targeted improvements in ambient air quality equal to the emissions reduction requirements based on air quality modeling and other analyses.

EPA included a similar provision in the implementation rule for the fine particulate matter air quality standards. Another alternative would give states additional credit for reducing emissions of volatile organic compounds with the greatest ozone-forming potential.

EPA's proposed rule also would allow states to include emissions reductions from federal air pollution programs such as the Tier 3 emissions standards for vehicles and gasoline as well as air toxics emissions standards for incinerators, boilers, cement kilns, internal combustion engines, and oil and natural gas wells.

“The emission reductions achieved by these federal rules will reduce the amount of emission reductions individual states will need to achieve through state and local regulations in order for areas to attain the 2008 ozone NAAQS,” EPA said.

EPA Revokes 1997 Standard

The April 2012 ozone designation rule revoked the less stringent ozone standard of 0.08 ppm, set in 1997, for purposes of transportation conformity. EPA's proposed rule would revoke the 1997 standard for all other purposes once states have completed their state implementation plans.

“The EPA's action ensures that only one ozone NAAQS--the more protective 2008 ozone NAAQS--applies, rather than having two standards, one of which the agency has determined is insufficiently protective, apply concurrently,” the agency said.

However, areas that were designated as not being in attainment of the revoked 1997 standard as well as the 2008 standard will be subject to the anti-backsliding requirements for the 1997 standard. Areas deemed to have attained the 1997 standard at the time it is revoked will not be subject to the anti-backsliding provisions.

Anti-backsliding measures include enforcing new source review, which requires new or modified industrial facilities to install pollution controls known as best available control technology, or leveraging fees on large sources of volatile organic compounds emissions under Section 185 of the Clean Air Act.

EPA will accept comments on the proposed rule for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. Comment can be made at http://www.regulations.gov and should reference Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0885.

EPA's proposed rule is available at http://www.epa.gov/air/ozonepollution/pdfs/Ozone%20SIP%20Req_Proposal_FRN_5-28-13%20disclaimer.pdf.

For more information, contact Karl Pepple in EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at (919) 54l-2683 or pepple.karl@epa.gov or Butch Stackhouse at (919) 54l-5208 or stackhouse.butch@epa.gov.