EPA Walks Back Ozone Delay, Western States Say Challenges Remain
State regulators from two Western states say that the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to suspend a planned delay on ozone standards would lead to non-attainment designations in their states, but that they are prepared to move forward with compliance plans.
Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said Utah would likely see new non-attainment areas across the state, but didn’t anticipate the agency needing to alter the plans it already submitted to the EPA.
Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Duchesne and Uintah counties could see new designations October 1, the EPA’s original deadline.
The EPA’s decision late Wednesday to halt the one-year delay in implementing its 2015 ozone rulemaking will not affect Colorado’s plans to move forward with its own emission reduction efforts either, according to the state air quality director.
Garry Kaufman, Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) Director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told Western Wire that while Colorado is “still out of attainment on the old 2008 standard” on background ozone, he believes the state has “made a lot of progress and more progress to be made” on ozone will occur, with or without the EPA’s delay until October 1, 2018 for non-attainment designations.
EPA’s decision to rescind the delay comes one day after fifteen states sued the agency over the one-year postponement. New Mexico was the only state to join the lawsuit from the Rocky Mountain West.
“One area in the state is out of attainment on federal ozone, due to the fact standards have grown more stringent over time,” Kaufman said, referring to the 2015 rule that lowered the standard from 75 to 70 parts per billion. “Controls we can implement in Colorado will have beneficial effects,” he continued, and said that the state is “not at the point of no return” on reducing ozone.
But Kaufman cautioned on ozone levels that go below 70ppb, as in the 2015 standard. Some environmentalists and even the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had suggested a standard at 65 or even 60ppb.
“A good portion of the ozone we experience in the Denver Metro and north Front Range area is transported here from out of state or out of the country,” said Kaufman, and not from Colorado sources.
As reported elsewhere in Western Wire, Western states see transported ozone from countries like Mexico and China, as well as various other sources of ozone that lay beyond the control of state regulators and inhabitants.
When “[you] get down around 60[ppb], that’s getting to background ozone in the state,” said Kaufman.
“On high ozone days we’re seeing 50 to 65 percent background at the high monitors,” which, as Kaufman says, “doesn’t leave a lot of cushion that we can affect.”
APCD has also measured days when those levels have been much higher.
“Sometimes it’s almost exclusively background [ozone],” said Kaufman.
However, the state is “still prepared” after the decision to suspend the delay. Kaufman said his office and the agency as a whole was ready to move forward on recommendations it made to the EPA in the fall of 2016. The EPA delay rested on whether it would concur or disagree with the recommendations made for the state by CDPHE.
According to Kaufman, the state’s current “moderate area” of non-attainment would continue to be in non-attainment, and CDPHE anticipated that no other areas would violate the new standard.
Kaufman outlined an October rulemaking effort for further oil and gas sector emission reductions. From 2011, the baseline year, to 2017, CDPHE estimates a 33 percent reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through reductions in the oil and gas sector and vehicle emissions. The state also saw a 27 percent NO2 reduction from cleaner vehicles and power plants.
“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement about the decision to end the one-year delay. “Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process.”
Kaufman said the EPA report issued earlier in the week on U.S. emissions reductions and reported by Western Wire yesterday reflected what Colorado has experienced over the past several decades, contrary to what some environmentalists have put forth regarding ozone levels increasing.
“The trends in Colorado are consistent with what the EPA was reporting,” said Kaufman.
While the state has experienced “some” variability based on monitoring location and measurements from year-to-year, Colorado has generally seen vast improvements.
“At the long scale, since the 1970s or 1980s, the air is quite a bit cleaner throughout the state for all the pollutants,” Kaufman said. “[We] used to be out of attainment on carbon monoxide, particulate matter, NO2, and ozone,” but “dramatic reductions” for the other emissions, including the precursors to ozone, have made combatting ozone easier.
Ozone is not emitted directly, but is a secondary emission, a mix of NO2 and VOCs, vehicles, solvents, oil and gas emissions, natural biogenic VOCs from plants, and other sources that cook in the summer sunlight, Kaufman explained.
Colorado has been “working hard for the last decade and made a lot of progress in reducing the precursors” to ozone, with most coming from the “tremendous reductions of VOCs from oil and gas sector.”
While the delay of the ozone rule is off the table, the agency may still decide to repeal the rule.