The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to meet Clean Air Act deadlines to review, revise and implement national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) – with nitrogen oxides and ozone at the forefront of recent actions. President Trump recently issued a memo that directs the Agency and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to take a series of “actions” to facilitate state and industry compliance with NAAQS and reduce barriers to economic growth. This includes decisions for the air permits needed to construct new facilities or to expand or modernize existing facilities. The memo notes that these air construction permits have become increasingly difficult to obtain as NAAQS have become more stringent. The White House said in a press release that the “Administration will reform NAAQS implementation to provide States with a more efficient process and to promote economic growth."
The President’s memo came just days after Administrator Scott Pruitt took final action to retain the current NAAQS for nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx emissions have decreased by over 50 percent since 2000, and there are currently no areas in non-attainment for NOx. AGC had been tracking and reporting on this rulemaking.
Meanwhile, implementation of the revised 2015 ozone standards remains in limbo. In April 2017, EPA announced that it would reconsider the standards but gave no schedule for doing so.
On March 12, a U.S. District Court ordered EPA to complete its area designations by April 30, 2018. Initially, EPA announced it would delay these designations until Oct. 1, 2018, due to a lack of information. EPA later withdrew this delay, re-setting the deadline at October 1, 2017. However, the area designations were not completed on time, leading state Attorneys General and citizen groups to sue EPA.
The new EPA air chief William Wehrum recently said he sees reworking the NAAQS reviews as a higher priority than revising the strict ozone standard the Obama administration adopted in 2015. To this end, EPA is soliciting comment on a menu of “flexible” approaches states could pursue in their upcoming plans for mitigating interstate air emissions that are hindering attainment of the agency's 2015 ozone standard.
AGC has called on EPA to delay implementation of the 2015 ozone standards until the 75-ppb standard set in 2008 can be fully analyzed for impact and will continue to work closely with Congress and the Trump Administration to ensure efficient and cost-effective implementation of the NAAQS program. AGC closely tracks and responds to proposed NAAQS revisions. More stringent standards could push counties across the country into areas of “nonattainment,” which puts highway/transit funding and new construction of large facilities in jeopardy. Construction firms in ozone nonattainment areas may also face restrictions on equipment emissions via bid preferences or contract requirements.
NAAQS apply to the six “criteria” pollutants -- ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides, lead and carbon monoxide. Background ozone is a concern in Western states where background levels can sometimes approach the level of the NAAQS, potentially rendering the NAAQS effectively unattainable.
For additional information, please contact AGC’s Leah Pilconis, senior environmental counsel, at email@example.com.