On June 20 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to tighten the nation’s air quality standards for ground-level ozone, revising them for the first time since 1997. Not everyone is pleased.
The proposed rule recommends lowering the ozone standard to within a range of 0.070 to 0.075 parts per million (ppm). EPA also is taking comments on alternative standards within a range from 0.060 ppm up to the current eight-hour ozone standard, which is 0.08 ppm.
According to EPA, the proposal is based on the most recent scientific evidence about the health effects of ozone–the primary component of smog. The scientific information on which EPA based its determination is found in the three-volume, 2,118 page Ozone Air Quality Criteria Document (AQCD), released in final form in February 2006.
Overseas Ozone Reaching U.S.
Around the same time EPA issued its proposed ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) rule, the Task Force on Hemispheric Transport of Air Pollution (HTAP), on which EPA serves, released its draft interim study. The report reiterates a finding that emissions from China and elsewhere increase ozone levels in the United States.
How much so remains an open question, but one thing is certain. Background ozone levels in the United States, over which state authorities have no control, are sure to rise as overseas economies expand.
Ethanol Creating Ozone
Additionally, scientific studies indicate the increasing use of ethanol for transportation fuel will increase background levels of ozone. This is a very problematic issue because government mandates for increased use of ethanol in transportation fuels essentially hamstring the ability of state authorities to limit growing background levels of ozone.
These and many other matters of great importance to business and industry will surely arise in the public comment period for EPA’s proposed ozone rule. Careless assumptions and computations by EPA could lead to a dramatic rise in the number of regions of the country that are pushed into ozone NAAQS noncompliance, resulting in a loss of federal highway funds.
On December 13, 2006 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce petitioned EPA to undertake a rulemaking that would protect states and local authorities as well as Chamber members and other stakeholders from suffering regulatory and economic burdens due to impacts on local air quality conditions arising from intrusive foreign emissions–like ozone and particulate matter originating in Asia–that ultimately come across the U.S. border.
To date, EPA has not formally responded to the Chamber’s petition.
William L. Kovacs ([email protected]) is vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs Division.