EPA drops deferrals, moves ahead with 2015 NAAQS implementation

The US Environmental Protection Agency withdrew 1-year deferrals it issued to governors earlier this summer for promulgating initial air designations (IADs) under the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and said it would continue to work closely with states in implementing the ground-level ozone emissions limits instead.

The US Environmental Protection Agency withdrew 1-year deferrals it issued to governors earlier this summer for promulgating initial air designations (IADs) under the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and said it would continue to work closely with states in implementing the ground-level ozone emissions limits instead.

“We believe in dialogue with, and being responsive to, our state partners. Today’s action reinforces our commitment to working with the states through the complex designation process,” EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt said as he announced the Aug. 2 move.

But he also acknowledged the possibility of legal challenges that could lead to court settlements with undesirable results despite the Clean Air Act giving EPA flexibility to allow 1 additional year to gather enough information to support ozone designations.

Pruitt acted the day after New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman (D) and 15 other states’ attorneys general sued EPA for delaying implementation of the 2015 federal ground-level ozone emissions controls (OGJ Online, Aug. 2, 2017).

The agency’s latest announcement left open the possibility that it still could use its delay and other legally available authority to assure that its ozone designations are based on sound science and the best available information.

It noted that it issued the IAD deferrals in June when it became apparent that the agency would not meet the Oct. 1, 2017, deadline to designate all areas due to underlying complexities and methodological and informational questions about the new ozone NAAQS standard (OGJ Online, June 7, 2017).

Background ozone questions

EPA said at that time that it would delay its deadline for designations until Oct. 1, 2018, partly because questions had been raised repeatedly if 2015’s 70 parts per billion limit was set so low that naturally-occurring ozone in national parks and other nonindustrial areas was being included unintentionally.

“Previous EPA administrations had repeatedly invoked this statutory power to delay designations for part or all of the country,” the agency said on Aug. 2. “Today’s announcement replaces our earlier action that delayed the agency's designation deadline on a nationwide basis and clarifies our path forward so that the agency can be more responsive to local needs.”

Pruitt said, “Under previous administrations, EPA would often fail to meet designation deadlines and then wait to be sued by activist groups and others, agreeing in a settlement to set schedules for designation. 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.”

The American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, noted on Aug. 3 that data in an annual report EPA issued a day earlier, “Our Nation’s Air: Status and Trends Through 2016,” show that ambient ozone levels are declining, underscoring US industries’ commitments and investments in environmental protection.

The nation’s largest oil and gas trade association and 146 other trade groups and businesses representing a broad cross-section of US industries signed a letter to congressional leadership affirming strong support for the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, which the House approved last month (OGJ Online, July 19, 2017). The coalition hopes that the Senate will pass the legislation before the end 2017, API said.

“Implementing both the 2008 and 2015 standards creates unnecessary complexity and inefficiency, in addition to needlessly burdening states and businesses with potentially enormous costs to implement dual standards and competing timelines,” API Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Senior Director Howard J. Feldman observed.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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