EPA Proposes New Smog Standards

Public hearings set for proposed NAAQ ground-level ozone standards.

On Nov. 25, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new regulations designed to strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAAQ) for ground-level ozone. According to the EPA, the proposed updates will “improve public health protection, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. The updates also will improve protection for trees, plants and ecosystems.”

The EPA’s proposed regulations will strengthen air-quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb). In addition, the EPA will take comments on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review the standards every five years. The latest review was 2008 when standards were set at 75 ppb. The Agency will accept public comments on the proposal for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Public hearings are scheduled for Arlington, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Sacramento, Calif.

“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air-quality information, and protect those most at risk. It empowers the American people with updated air-quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been the EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air-quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

Automotive repairers are interested in how this will impact vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance programs (I/M). It is too early to determine the national impact on emissions I/M with lowering the standards.There are key issues still outstanding prior to any I/M analysis:

• What is the final standard?
• How will areas be classified?
• Assignment of deadlines.
• Will the 2008 standard be revoked?
• Data has to be accumulated for three years prior to an area being designated as nonattainment.

Once the standard is finalized and these earlier points addressed, we will begin to see what states are proposing for their air quality programs. According to the EPA, “A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including ‘Tier 3’ clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards. The EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows that the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or under way. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. The EPA projects that this progress will continue.”

The EPA’s proposal also includes extending the ozone monitoring season for 33 states, which they believe will be of more value for alerting people about unhealthy air quality levels.
As Congress begins consideration of Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations for the U.S. EPA, the issue of costs to the U.S. economy will be debated relative to the EPA proposed regulations. The EPA addressed this issue in its launch of the proposed ozone regulations, stating: “…strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to one million missed school days.

“Strengthening the standard to a range of 70 to 65 ppb would better protect both children and adults by preventing more than 710 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays. The EPA estimates that the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs. If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb. Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.”

To review current state I/M programs, please go to the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality’s (OTAQ) website, http://epa.gov/otaq/epg/statepgs.htm. To monitor this and other important regulatory and legislative issues, please go to the Automotive Service Association’s legislative website, http://www.TakingtheHill.com.