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The EPA reversed course on its plan to postpone for one-year the implementation of the newest federal air pollution standards for ozone, possibly in an attempt to forestall lawsuits challenging the delay as illegal.
The Environmental Protection Agency previously announced plans to postpone the Oct. 1 deadline for determining which regions of the country meet or violate the updated ozone standards, citing the lack of adequate data to make those determinations. But late Aug. 2, the EPA announced it would continue to work with states to meet that deadline, saying the “gaps” in the data on air pollution necessary to make those decisions “may not be as expansive as we previously believed.”
The reversal comes after environmental and public health groups sued the EPA, arguing the nationwide delay was illegal.
While the Clean Air Act does allow the agency to postpone for one year making those non-attainment designations when it lacks sufficient data, the health and environmental groups argued that the EPA cannot just delay the decisions nationwide ( Am. Lung Ass’n v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 17-1172, 7/12/17 ).
“We’re pleased the administration recognizes the law is clear and they have to do designations and that the data is available,” Paul Billings, national senior vice president at the American Lung Association, told Bloomberg BNA. “In fact, we have 2016 data that should be considered as well. They have more current data they can look at.”
The EPA set the updated national ambient air quality standards for ozone at 70 parts per billion in 2015. States in 2016 identified regions that were unlikely to meet the 70 ppb standards based on air quality data. Parts of at least 22 states were identified as likely to exceed the ozone limits at that time, according to a Bloomberg BNA survey of state environmental agencies.
“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process.”
State air pollution regulators could not be reached for comment, but the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies previously said the one-year delay could be beneficial for states as they wait for the EPA to develop the tools necessary for local air pollution regulators to show they have met the standards.
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The EPA's ozone withdrawal notice is available at http://src.bna.com/rlW.
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