EPA Proposes Revised Ozone Standard

On Nov. 26, EPA proposed revising the ozone standards, recommending a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) for both the primary and secondary standards. The current ozone standard is set at 75 ppb.

Ozone is the primary component of smog. It forms in the lower atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun.  Emissions from sources such as transportation, industry, power plants, and products such as solvents and paints are among the major man-made sources of ozone-forming pollutants.

Why did EPA release a new draft standard now? 

Under the Clean Air Act passed by Congress, EPA is required to review the health standards for certain pollutants every five years.  As part of that review, a group of independent scientific advisors, called CASAC (Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee), convene to review the latest health information and make a recommendation. In June 2014, CASAC concluded that scientific evidence supports a standard within a range of 60 to 70 ppb.  Ultimately, EPA decided to propose a new standard between 65 and 70 ppb, but is receiving comments on whether a 60 ppb standard should be established or whether the existing 75 ppb standard should be retained.

Currently, the northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Kenton, and Campbell are designated as partial nonattainment (not meeting the standard) with the existing 75 ppb ozone standard.  But many more counties could find themselves in nonattainment with the revised standard, depending on which value EPA chooses for the final standard.

What is the effect of being designated as nonattainment?

In addition to the potential impacts on public health, nonattainment areas must require stricter pollution controls on sources of the chemicals that cause ozone pollution. This nonattainment designation results in higher costs for the additional air pollution controls required, as well as costs for emission offsets for major new sources and costs for potential vehicle-inspection programs in the nonattainment area.

In addition, areas that take too long to achieve the standard may potentially lose federal highway funding or be required to use those funds only on projects that don’t contribute to the pollution problem. Congress put both these potential consequences into the Clean Air Act to encourage states to move quickly to reduce ground-level ozone.

In anticipation of the EPA’s proposal to revise the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, Gov. Steve Beshear sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Nov. 21. The letter outlines the governor’s concerns for the economic impact of the proposed standards on the Commonwealth.

As the Governor explains, current control strategies are being implemented to address the 2008 revised ozone standard.  Additionally, several federal regulations are proposed that are anticipated to significantly reduce the emissions of ozone-forming pollutants.  The full effects of these controls have yet to be realized, both in terms of costs and benefits.  You can read the Governor’s letter here.

Read more about the proposed standards here.