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EPA seeking public comment on designation recommendations for the 2015 NAAQS for ozone

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On January 5, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a notice accepting public comments on their proposed attainment and nonattainment designations for the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Ozone. The proposed 2015 ozone rule would lower the NAAQS for ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. Comments are due February 5.

In November 2017, the EPA preliminarily designated 2,646 counties that meet the 2015 standards for ground-level ozone or are unclassifiable. Affected states of the remaining nonattainment areas – about 420 counties – were notified by the EPA in December 2017 on their intended recommendations, and were given 120 days to provide additional information for the EPA to consider before making final designation decisions by April 30.

In the notice, the EPA expressed interest on their proposed attainment and nonattainment ozone designations. Specifically, the agency would like to hear why an area should (or should not) be listed as either “in attainment,” (meeting the 70 ppb standard), or “nonattainment” (not meeting the standard). EPA asks that any comment include assumptions and/or technical data; provide specific examples to illustrate concerns and suggest alternatives; and explain views as clearly as possible to support arguments. Comments can be submitted here.

Ozone is one of the six air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act (CAA) NAAQS program. Under NAAQS, EPA is required to reassess air quality standards every five years. Primarily known as a summertime pollutant, ozone forms when sunlight reacts with pollutants such as volatile organic compounds emitted from chemical plants, gasoline pumps, oil-based paints, and auto body and print shops. Sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) include power plants, industrial facilities and motor vehicles.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator is required to make all attainment designations within two years after a final rule revising the NAAQS is published. However, the deadline for EPA Administrator Pruitt to issue designations for the 2015 NAAQS for ozone passed on October 1. As a result, numerous groups have already notified EPA of their intent to sue, setting the stage for litigation in the coming weeks absent further action from EPA.

Ozone designations can have a significant impact on county governments. Under the Clean Air Act, states and counties serve as co-regulators with the federal government and are ultimately responsible for the implementation of new and existing air quality standards. 227 counties are currently regulated under ozone air quality standards.

NACo has called on EPA to delay implementation of the 2015 ozone standards until the 75 ppb standard set in 2008 can be fully analyzed for impact, and will continue to work closely with Congress and the Trump Administration to craft clear, concise and workable rules that take into account the role of counties as key regulatory partners with the federal government.

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