EPA Sued on Ozone

Agency Missed Deadline on Ambient Air Quality Standards

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was sued because it has not completed designations on national ambient air quality standards. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A number of environmental and health interest groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week after the agency missed its deadline to designate all areas of the country as either in or out of attainment of national ambient air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The agency had until Oct. 1, 2017, to make the nationwide designations.

In 2015, President Barack Obama's EPA tightened the ozone standards of particulate matter from 75 parts per billion to 70 ppb. That action was of particular concern to farmers and ranchers who already operate in regions of the country that struggle to meet national ambient air quality standards for ozone. Many of those producers have had to work to reduce dust pollution on the farm as part of plans in place in what are called "non-attainment areas."

In April 2017, the EPA received a delay in ongoing litigation from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review the 2015 standard that tightened the standards for particulate matter. In August 2017, the EPA withdrew the deadline extension.

In a Nov. 6, 2017, Federal Register notice, the agency designated 2,646 of the total 3,007 counties in the United States as either in attainment or "unclassifiable." In the notice signed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency indicates it will complete the designations later.

"For other areas not addressed in this final rule, the EPA is not extending the time provided under section 107(d)(1)(B) of the Clean Air Act but is not yet prepared to issue designations," the agency notice said. "The agency intends to address these areas in a separate future action."

In a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, the groups asked the judge to require EPA to make all of its designations.

The suit was filed by the American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the West Harlem Environmental Action.

"This deadline has passed and the administrator has not yet promulgated designations for all areas of the nation," the lawsuit said. "The areas that have not yet been designated are those that are most polluted, where tens of millions of people live and work. EPA's failure to meet the deadline that Congress prescribed violates the Clean Air Act.

"More than 100 million of the roughly 323 million people in the United States live in the hundreds of counties that remain as of this date without designations under the 2015 standards, including urban areas like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Washington-Baltimore, Denver, Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Oakland, where ozone pollution is particularly severe."

EPA's decision in 2015 to tighten the ozone standards of particulate matter drew the ire of 269 interest groups across the country, including agriculture groups who sent a letter to President Obama on July 29, 2015, opposing the changes.

In the letter, the American Farm Bureau Federation, California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations, Corn Refiners Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Fertilizer Institute, and the Western Agricultural Processors Association said they opposed the standard.

In that letter, the groups said ozone levels had improved by 33% since 1980 and were expected to improve in the coming years. The groups were concerned the stricter ozone standards could "close off communities across the nation to new jobs and economic growth, requiring reductions to near background levels in many places."

One of the issues the groups raised was that available emission technologies may not be suitable to achieve the even stricter standards. Further, the EPA proposal came at a time when many stakeholders already were struggling to meet the 75 ppb standard.

Read the EPA's November 2017 notice here: http://bit.ly/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley