Colorado Democrat Slams Washington’s Ozone Agenda: ‘This is Just Setting Us Up to Fail’02/22/2016
EPA Concedes Denver Can’t Meet Strict New Standard Due to Out-of-State Pollution
Also Read the Denver Business Journal Story Here
Washington D.C., – In a quietly released white paper over the winter holiday break, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an admission acknowledging that the Denver metro area will be unable to meet EPA’s new strict ozone standards by 2025 due to the presence of background ozone. The EPA finds that Denver is the only region outside of California that will be unable to meet the standard by 2025.
EPA’s admission isn’t going over well with Colorado elected leaders. As the Denver Business Journal reports, “state Sen. Cheri Jahn, a Wheat Ridge Democrat and small-business owner, is worried about what will happen to Colorado’s status, and businesses, if the state doesn’t meet the EPA’s new lower limits. ‘This is just setting us up to fail,’ Jahn said. ‘I think we’re being set up. There’s too much going on around the state, and when you have all that background ozone coming into the state, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it,” Jahn said. “When it’s already known that Colorado can’t make it, then is the goal to help states become more ozone friendly? Or is to punish them?’’’
Further, EPA’s admission follows specific concerns raised by top Democratic lawmakers in Colorado last summer, including Governor John Hickenlooper and Senator Michael Bennet, warning that EPA’s new stringent standard does not account for background ozone in the Denver area. Colorado Democratic state senator Cheri Jahn shrewdly observed, “You know what it almost feels like? They are setting us up to fail.”
These concerns were highlighted in a report published last summer by the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), “Slamming the Brakes: How Washington’s Ozone Plan Will Hurt the Colorado Economy and Make Traffic Worse.” The report features strong and broad-based opposition to overreaching federal policies that ignore the state’s proud history of environmental stewardship. CRS also produced a factsheet on background ozone, warning that in many areas even national parks would be unable to meet stricter ozone standards due to background ozone.
The EPA white paper is designed to “establish a common understanding and foundation for additional conversations on background ozone and to inform any further action by the Agency.” Yet this paper comes after EPA has already made its determination on a new, more stringent standard. The EPA is also hosting a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona on February 24 and 25, 2016. According to EPA’s website, “EPA will hold a two-day workshop with stakeholders to advance the collective understanding of technical and policy issues associated with background ozone, with one day for representatives of state, tribal and local air agencies; and one day for all stakeholders. The workshop is part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to engage with states and stakeholders on implementation of the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.”
“While I appreciate that the EPA finally confirmed the bipartisan concerns of Colorado’s leaders, I don’t think a simple white paper and conference are going to solve the problem,” said Karen Kerrigan, President of the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. “Background ozone is a leading concern for many state regulatory agencies. This issue should have been taken up before EPA made its decision, not after. State leaders have been raising concerns about background ozone for months, and yet EPA is only now acknowledging the problem. I expect the EPA to receive an earful in February at the conference in Arizona from state leaders.
“Denver has a long history of stakeholders working collaboratively to address ozone challenges in the state. But now the federal government has made the standard so strict that background ozone will keep Denver out of compliance. This is just another example of Washington blindly pushing forward with bad policies, regardless of the input from state experts.”
Indeed, Colorado is one of the biggest success stories of the Clean Air Act since its passage more than 40 years ago. In the 1970s, the ozone hung so thick over the Denver metro area that it earned its own name: “The Brown Cloud.” At the time, downtown Denver recorded ozone levels as high as 310 parts per billion (ppb). That is nearly 350 percent higher than today’s standard of 70 ppb.
From the White Paper on Colorado:
- “The RIA modeling predicts levels above 70 ppb in the Denver area”
- “Non-California Portions of Western U.S. – As noted earlier in this white paper, the effects of USB O3 are most notable at a relatively small number of sites in the inter-mountain western U.S. As shown in Table 2c, there are 26 counties with at least one site where the 2012-2014 design value exceeds 70 ppb. Across these 26 counties, there is a wide range of the extent to which USB influences O3 design values. In certain highly urban locations in this region, such as Denver (Adams, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties, CO) and Phoenix (Maricopa County, AZ), the modeling suggests a sizeable contribution to the ozone design values from U.S. manmade sources, ranging from 45 to 50 percent.”
- “The CAMx modeling indicated that the county with the lowest influence from U.S. manmade emissions (i.e., the highest contribution from USB) is El Paso County, CO with only a 10 percent contribution from U.S. manmade sources to the projected 2017 O3 design value.”
Additional Background on the White Paper and Conference:
- “The EPA acknowledges that stakeholders may have their own definitions of background O3. From the highly local perspective, some may conclude that all emissions outside the specific locality are outside jurisdictional control and are, therefore, background. At the other end of the spectrum, from an international perspective, some may conclude that all manmade emissions are controllable and, therefore, background O3 is only generated from non-manmade sources.”
- “Some states and other stakeholders have expressed concern about the fairness and practicality of applying the CAA’s regulatory relief mechanisms in locations where it can be argued that nearby manmade emissions are not largely responsible for elevated O3 levels.40 They argue that the CAA’s relief mechanisms provide insufficient relief, or they express skepticism that state and federal air management agencies will be able to efficiently and successfully apply the CAA’s provisions without significant burden.”
Colorado Leaders on Background Ozone
- Raymond Gifford, Former Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission: “I am concerned there will be enormous economic costs and consequences. In the past, there were cost-effective options to reduce emissions, and the ozone targets were reachable. Today, we have reached the point of diminishing returns. Reducing emissions any further will be much more expensive and the targets proposed by EPA may never be reached, largely because of high background concentrations that state and local officials have no control over.”
- Colorado state senator Cheri Jahn (D): “You know what it almost feels like? They are setting us up to fail.”
- Western States Air Resources (WESTAR) Council, an association of 15 western state air quality managers: “In its proposal, EPA suggests that these background contributions can be addressed by existing ‘regulatory relief’ options, including the exceptional events policy. We believe however, that EPA downplays the ongoing significance of background ozone in the west and overstates the capability of the tools available to adequately address the regulatory requirements imposed on states. The tools available to states to account for non-anthropogenic ozone treated as exceptional events are administratively burdensome and fraught with problems of second-guessing, often due to a lack of reliable supporting data.”
- American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO): “Given the high background levels as a percentage of current ambient levels, many areas in the West (and to some extent in other parts of the country as well) will have limited ability to reduce ambient levels of ozone through changes in transportation plans and the associated transportation conformity process.“In short, the proposed change in the ozone NAAQS would trigger the designation of hundreds of additional counties across the country as non-attainment areas, which in turn would require compliance with transportation conformity requirements. The transportation conformity process will impose a difficult – if not impossible – task in places where background levels are so high that there is little that can be done through transportation planning to reduce ambient ozone.”
- Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies (AAPCA): “A majority of state agency comments raised concerns about the role of background ozone, including both naturally-occurring and internationally-transported contributions to ground-level ozone, as an achievability or implementation challenge (26 states). Similarly, a majority of state comments identified limitations to the Clean Air Act tools highlighted by U.S. EPA for regulatory relief to address background ozone (24 states)…“While they have often been treated as limited, regional issues in the past, background ozone and limitations of the regulatory relief tools available to states are increasingly national concerns that could impact large swaths of the country, especially under a more stringent ozone NAAQS that requires reliance on unknown controls. These comments reflect a consensus among geographically-diverse states with differing perspectives on the proposed ozone NAAQS revisons.”
- U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO): “Because of the pollution that’s come in from other western states, from across the globe, from wildfires in the West, we have significant parts of our state that would be in nonattainment zones from the very beginning of the law. That doesn’t make any sense, that’s not going to work.”
- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D): “To set up a standard where you know you’re not going to be able to achieve it, and obviously we’re at a unique disadvantage because we’re a mile high. So when you’re at 5,000 feet your ozone challenges are significantly more difficult.”
- Sam Ottmans, Research Associate, University of Colorado in Boulder: “Background ozone contributes on average about 40 ppb to measured ozone in the Mountain West during the spring and early summer when measured levels exceed about 60 ppb.…With these relatively high contributions from background ozone, an ozone standard needs to be set at a level that allows regulatory controls of prescursor [sic] emissions to achieve success in meeting the standard. At a standard less than 70 ppb, achieving the standard over a broad portion of the western U.S. with current background ozone levels would be very difficult.”
- Owen R. Cooper, Research Scientist III, University of Colorado in Boulder: “Attaining a lower standard may be particularly challenging in high elevations of the western United States, which are more likely to be affected by ozone that has been transported long distances or that originated in the stratosphere.”
- Denver Post Editorial Board: “Colorado is not yet in compliance even with the current standard, which was set in 2008. And while the state has made progress on reducing ozone dating back many years, ozone remains the most difficult air-quality challenge for this region.“That’s in part because ozone is a so-called secondary pollutant that is the product of complex photochemical reactions that are highly susceptible to factors such as heat, drought and wildfires over which regulators have no control.“Also, natural background ozone in the Rocky Mountain West tends to be higher than elsewhere. Air quality officials have told us that on some days the ambient ozone coming from natural sources and from outside the state could be 50 ppb or higher.”
- Western Governors’ Association: “There are a number of implementation issues that are of particular concern to western states including background levels and transported ozone, and policies for addressing exceptional events outside of state control.“Factors EPA should address in the new implementation guidance include:
- Ground-level ozone present due to exceptional events outside state control, including wildfires, which are increasing in western states, and stratospheric ozone intrusions, which are also particularly unique to the West.
- Interstate and international transport of ozone pollution including from Asia, Canada, Mexico and other western states.
- How western states should account for and address background ozone levels in remote areas of the region, including large counties with low population density and no significant emissions sources and large areas of federal lands in which states may lack authority to undertake mitigation efforts.”