Fuel answers

US federal regulators expect a record number of local and state governments to be in violation of federal clean air guidelines because of new ground-level ozone standards.

Maureen Lorenzetti

US federal regulators expect a record number of local and state governments to be in violation of federal clean air guidelines because of new ground-level ozone standards.
In 1997 the US Environmental Protection Agency revised the ozone standard to 0.08 ppm averaged over 8 hr, strengthening the previous standard (0.12 ppm averaged over 1 hr). Industry unsuccessfully argued to EPA and later to federal judges that the rule was neither cost-effective nor scientifically sound. And now companies may see their real fears come to pass: that the narrower standards could mean a new round of pollution controls nearly anywhere there is a refinery or power plant. Under federal clean air rules, states must meet the standard or face big fines, including the potential loss of highway money.

Congressional role
Congress sought to force EPA by no later than July 2000 to detail which areas were expected to fail the new ozone standard. But the agency avoided that answer until recently, when under a court settlement with environmental groups, EPA officially agreed on a legally binding timetable to identify "dirty-air" parts of the country by April 2004.
But the environmental community's victories in this area could be fleeting.
Given the new political dynamics in Washington come January, industry officials are already urging lawmakers from the soon-to-be Republican-controlled Congress to consider retooling federal clean air legislation with an eye toward changing the way the federal government enforces clean air guidelines.

Clean fuel options
Assuming there are no wholesale changes to federal clean air rules, state regulators say they expect to be looking more at clean fuel and vehicle options as a way to meet pollution guidelines. States have flexibility in designing pollution abatement programs based on local conditions and factors, but clean fuel programs are seen as less cumbersome than other alternatives such as odd or even driving days or alternative fuel mandates.
"The new 8-hr ozone standard will have a huge impact on states and localities, especially in pursuing more-stringent vehicle and fuel initiatives," said Bill Becker, executive director of State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials.
"Areas throughout the country experienced numerous exceedances of the 8-hr standard, forcing many of them to consider these additional motor vehicle and fuels strategies," Becker said.
To meet state requirements, local regulators and environmental groups want EPA to publish strict nonroad engine and fuel rules that call for sulfur levels limited to 15 ppm and lower to spur new engine technologies that rely on ultralow-sulfur levels to limit smog.
"Ozone levels can be reduced cost-effectively, using a combination of federal, state, and local efforts. For example, the adoption of new federal emissions standards and cleaner fuel requirements to reduce the emissions of ozone-forming pollutants from construction equipment and other large nonroad engines would make a major contribution to healthier air quality," said the American Lung Association.

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