EPA Runs into Unexpected Resistance, Possible Roadblock in Arizona: Background Ozone Severely Compromises State’s Ability to Comply with New Lower Standard03/01/2016
State air regulators and business leaders confronted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with stiff opposition at a two-day workshop focused on background ozone in Phoenix, Arizona last week. State air regulators crowded into the workshop alongside researchers, elected officials, and business leaders to air their concerns with how the EPA will account for background ozone when implementing the new federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground level ozone. Despite a public outcry last fall, EPA lowered the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb last October, throwing dozens of communities across the country into non-attainment, some for the very first time. Workshop participants had several concerns, including questions about the integrity of EPA’s modeling for background ozone, complaints about EPA’s management of states’ applications for “exceptional event” exclusions, and EPA’s failure to provide a solution for cross-border emissions.
General consensus emerged from the meeting that background ozone, which comes from sources outside of local control such as air pollution from abroad or from wildfires, will make it much harder for states in the West to meet the new ozone standard, which approaches background levels. Regions that violate the 70 ppb ozone standard trigger a process that could allow the EPA to control decisions regarding new manufacturing facilities, expanding existing businesses and upgrading the state’s road network. Pat Dolwick, head of EPA’s own OAQPS Air Quality Modeling Group, called the Intermountain West the “most problematic” region for addressing background ozone. “This is a very complicated puzzle to untangle as we get into how to obtain the 70 ppb standard,” Dolwick noted.
Dolwick wasn’t the only government official to concede that background ozone could push areas in the West out of attainment. Tom Moore of the Western States Air Resources Council Air Quality Program joined Owen Cooper of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in calling for additional monitoring data to show how much ozone was being transported into the U.S. “There are no high-quality routine observations that can tell you day in and day out how much ozone is coming in and impacting the U.S.,” said Cooper. Moore called this a “watershed moment” because the western U.S. is “going to be faced with a real challenge now that the standard is down quite a bit lower.”
In fact, even before the workshop was held, EPA had quietly admitted it did not have a clear plan for addressing background ozone in a white paper it released just before Christmas in December 2015.
Although the stated purpose of the workshop was to “advance the collective understanding of technical and policy issues associated with background ozone,” the EPA closed the first day of the workshop to the public and media. Neither session was available via webcast or other technology. This sparked numerous calls for greater transparency including from Senator Jeff Flake (AZ), Senator David Vitter (LA), House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (TX), and Roger McClellan, past chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. According to Vitter, “EPA shuns all accountability, oversight, and transparency, and today’s episode is another example of why this troubled agency urgently needs top-down reform.”
The Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), was able to participate in the second day of the workshop. Chief Economist Ray Keating presented the findings of a study released by CRS on the EPA’s white paper on background ozone. Keating noted: “The agency is largely regulating ahead of the science on background ozone, and I think a lot of people today confirmed that. The paper concluded that the new ozone standard is too close to background levels in many parts of the country. And this leaves states and local governments with very few ways, if any ways, to avoid violating the federal standard and the federal sanctions that go with it.” To watch a video of Ray’s remarks, click HERE.
CRS also published a report last week on how the new ozone standard would affect Arizona’s economy, finding that as much as 97 percent of the state’s economy could be impacted by the new standard. Keating told the workshop, “This very much matters to our economy…we’ve had a tough time over the last eight plus years, and these regulatory uncertainties and costs do not make it any better.”
This point was echoed by several members of the National and Arizona business community, who held a press call before the workshop to discuss the economic harm that could be wrought were EPA to ignore background ozone’s influence on their communities’ abilities to meet the ozone standard. Garrick Taylor, of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, “If the EPA doesn’t account adequately for background ozone when implementing these new standards, we’re simply going to be unfairly punished in Arizona.”
Timothy Franquist, deputy director of the air quality division at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, warned that “industry is a very small portion of the sources of ozone, but at the same time, those are the ones that we can traditionally control, so they are going to bear the hit.” Roger McClellan, a former Chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, also noted his concerns with the EPA’s handling of background ozone, telling EPA officials: “I’m concerned that EPA is really at the edge of the science, maybe out in front of the science.”
Some of the most critical comments came from local elected officials who are now faced with the possibility of harsh federal sanctions should they not be able to reach attainment due to background ozone. Arizona state Representative Mark Finchem read a letter signed by nine members of the Arizona State Legislature which said: “We suggest that the EPA should go back to a clean sheet of paper and construct a reasonable, scientifically justified ozone rule that does not do damage to the economic condition of our state and those around us so as to push it to the point of serious economic impairment.”
Jason Walker, Chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, said the fear of background ozone pushing their reservation into non-attainment is a “big concern in our valley.”
Congressman Paul Gosar (AZ) also released a statement during the workshop, calling EPA an “out-of-control agency” and adding: “Furthermore, it is laughable that the EPA admits it does not have a clear plan for dealing with background ozone generated by factors outside the state’s control. This means the EPA is literally attempting to punish Arizona for ozone pollution that is created in California, Mexico and even China…I applaud the Center for Regulatory Solutions for their work on this issue and for exposing the significant economic harm that will occur in Arizona as a result of EPA’s terrible new regulation.”
In light of the significant questions that have been raised by stakeholders, and even quietly acknowledged by EPA, Congress should take a closer look at EPA’s implementation plans for the new NAAQS standard – specifically at the role played by background ozone. If EPA does not have the necessary know-how to regulate fairly in the face of these challenges, Congress should compel the agency to delay implementation until these issues have been properly vetted and resolved.
If you would like for your voice to be heard on background ozone, the EPA will be accepting additional comments on the issue of background ozone through March, 31, 2016. Click here to submit comments.
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