Leaders Call on EPA to Make Background Ozone Workshop Open to Public02/23/2016
EPA planning closed-door workshop in Arizona on Wednesday
Phoenix, Arizona (February 23, 2016). – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona this week (February 24-25) focused on background ozone, which poses a serious challenge for states trying to come into compliance with EPA’s stringent new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone. Background ozone is the ozone that occurs naturally or due to factors beyond local control. Despite EPA claims that the purpose of this workshop is to “advance the collective understanding of technical and policy issues associated with background ozone,” they are meeting behind closed doors with state regulators – blocking the American people and the news media from viewing the important exchange. In an unprecedented move, the EPA is only allowing the public and local stakeholders access to the second day of the workshop. Moreover, EPA has made no attempt to make the event accessible to the broader public who are concerned about the standard, but are unable to travel to Arizona to participate in person.
EPA has been very creative in their effort to “get the message out.” For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA went so far as to violate federal law by engaging in “covert propaganda” through their aggressive use of social media. According to a New York Times article, an EPA spokesperson explained, “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities.” If that is indeed the case, why not open the doors of the workshop or make video of the hearing available on the internet? The workshop in Phoenix is an important opportunity to inform the public.
The issue of background ozone has been of particular importance to lawmakers, state air regulators and the public. Last year Senator Michael Bennet (D) and Colorado Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper expressed concerns with EPA’s proposal to tighten the ozone standard based especially on challenges associated with background ozone. There concerns were confirmed earlier this year by the EPA in a white paper that admitted the Denver metro region would be unable to meet the new standard in large part because of background ozone.
Today, national and state business leaders called on the EPA to support a transparent and open process by allowing the public to attend both days of the workshop:
“State regulatory agencies have raised serious concerns to EPA about their ability to comply with the new lower standard, in large part due to background ozone. The American people deserve the opportunity to hear these concerns directly from the air quality experts and not be shut out by the EPA. It is wrong for the federal government to operate behind closed doors when the EPA’s stated purpose is to ‘advance the collective understanding.’” – Karen Kerrigan, President of the Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS), a project of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.
“As a scientist who has worked for decades at the interface between science and policy, I favor open and transparent dialogue among all the parties – it enhances public trust. Closed meetings with restricted attendance raise suspicions. I hope EPA will reverse course and open both meetings to all stakeholders, including members of the public. There are tough issues concerning background ozone, especially in the west, that must be addressed in an equitable manner to avoid punishing westerners who treasure both the environment and jobs.” – Roger McClellan, past chair of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, former chair of the National Council’s Committee on Toxicology and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.
Air Quality Experts on Background 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 revisions.”
- 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.”
- Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division Director Eric Massey: “Implementation of this new, lower standard will be difficult in Arizona. Emissions and options to reduce them are few, particularly in rural areas like La Paz County.”
- 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.”