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EPA Proposes More Stringent Ozone Standards; More Areas of Country Will Not Meet National Standards

01.28.10

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its proposal to strengthen the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for the main component of smog, ground level ozone.  EPA proposed in the Federal Register on Jan. 19, 2010 to set the ozone standard between 60 and 70 parts per billion (ppb).  In 2008, the Bush Administration set the standard at 75 ppb. Environmental groups subsequently sued EPA claiming the standard was not protective enough, which led the Obama Administration to reconsider the 2008 standard.  EPA is accepting public comment on its proposal for 60 days and will issue a final standard by Aug. 31, 2010.

Ozone is formed by emissions of nitrogen oxides or volatile organic compounds. Nitrogen oxides are a product of combustion which means that all fuel-burning sources (utilities, off-road vehicles, boilers, incinerators, marine vessels) create nitrogen oxide emissions and may be subject to control requirements by states looking to make reductions.  Volatile organic compounds are commonly used compounds in paints, solvents, cleaners and other products.

EPA acknowledges that the new rules would cost utilities and industrial sources as much as $90 billion in compliance costs, but the Agency argues that there will be greater cost savings in avoided medical costs and missed work days from reductions in health issues associated with air quality.

Following issuance of the final standard in August, states will be required to determine which areas should be designated “nonattainment.” EPA will make the final nonattainment designation by July 2011. States will then be required to develop state implementation plans demonstrating how emissions will be reduced to meet the lower ozone standard.  EPA predicts that approximately twice the number of counties with ozone monitors would violate the standard if it is lowered from 75 ppb to 60 ppb.

For more information on EPA’s proposal and its potential impact, please contact any member of Waller Lansden’s Regulatory and Environmental Practice Group at 800-487-6380.

The opinions expressed in this bulletin are intended for general guidance only.  They are not intended as recommendations for specific situations.  As always, readers should consult a qualified attorney for specific legal guidance.

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