Ozone Deadlines: Is An Extension Needed?

September 26, 2017

With the October 1, 2017, statutory deadline fast approaching, a number of state agencies, city leaders and industry personnel are anxiously awaiting Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) initial area designations for the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of  70 parts per billion (ppb).  Given recent history, it is unlikely anyone will be surprised if the EPA fails to meet the October 1 statutory deadline; however, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, was quoted as saying, “We do not believe in regulation through litigation, and we take deadlines seriously. We also take the statute and the authority it gives us seriously.”  Even so, an extension of the October 1 deadline remains a possibility as the EPA stated, “The Administrator may still determine that an extension of time to complete designations is necessary, but is not making such a determination at this time.”

According to EPA data, as of June 2017, approximately 1/3 of the US population lived in areas classified as nonattainment for the 75 ppb 2008 ozone standard.  More than 240 counties are expected to violate the new 70 ppb standard.  Counties and areas classified as nonattainment can face significant challenges in the form of air permitting delays, restrictions on industry expansion within the area, as well as impacts to transportation planning.  These challenges commonly lead to reduced economic development in and around the nonattainment area in addition to greater EPA involvement and oversight in air permit permitting.

Although the 70 ppb ozone standard was finalized in 2015, the EPA has yet to finalize how implementation of the rule will be handled.  The EPA has stated that some of the guidance and rules from the 2008 standard remain applicable; however, there continues to be questions on nonattainment classification thresholds and how to address background ozone concentrations.

After nonattainment areas are designated, states will have up to 3 years to produce State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which outline measures to reduce emission levels to attain and/or maintain the NAAQS. SIPs must be codified through an EPA review and approval process which can also take years to complete. Finally, under the Clean Air Act (CAA), actual attainment of the standards is allowed to stretch over a 3-year to 20-year period, depending on the severity of the area’s pollution.

As with most of EPA’s actions this is another wait and see event, stay tuned…..

Rule History

  • December 17, 2014 – Ozone NAAQS Proposed Rule published in Federal Register (FR)
  • October 26, 2015 – Ozone NAAQS Final Rule published in FR
  • June 28, 2017 – Scott Pruitt announces 1 year extension (Oct 1, 2018) on initial area designations
  • August 2, 2017 – Scott Pruitt withdraws notice delaying initial area designations
  • October 1, 2017 – Statutory requirement date for initial area designations by EPA
Contributed by Isaac Smith, Environmental Compliance Manager