Area Development
September 30th marked an important clean air deadline. That’s when governors had to send EPA a list of in-state regions judged to comply, or not, with the revised ozone (O3) standard, changed one year earlier, October 1, 2015. EPA tightened the standard, from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70. Ozone is formed mostly from two common and ubiquitous precursor pollutants — nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). At certain levels, O3 can cause lung and respiratory problems. {{RELATEDLINKS}}

The governors’ assessments are based on air-quality readings and related factors such as emissions sources and geography. Importantly, these are not final assessments. To the contrary, EPA will review the governors’ work. If EPA disagrees with a governor’s assessment, it will give notice by June 2, 2017, with final determinations made by October 1, 2017. This is not entirely an apples-to-apples review. The governors’ work is based on air-quality data from 2013, 2014, and 2015. EPA’s review will use data from 2014, 2015, and 2016. Obviously, different data could lead to different conclusions.

EPA’s compliance determination is a critical Clean Air Act requirement. Noncompliance also includes a ranking of how excessively a region exceeds the standard. Rankings start at “marginal” and go to “extreme.” Each ranking adds pollution controls and sets specific compliance deadlines. Cities and metro areas have struggled with the ozone standard for decades.

At the end of October, EPA said it was still gathering the governors’ reports. However, the Association of Air Pollution Control Agencies has compiled a portfolio of 17 reports from its membership. Those reports provide a “first draft” insight into the nation’s ozone profile and the likely direction and extent of upcoming regulatory programs. Below are some summary observations (except for California, which is always an exception in discussions about ozone): Interstate Transport
The East Coast states, from Virginia to Maine, are part of a regulated group called the Ozone Transport Commission. A big concern is pollution blown in from other areas, particularly states to the west. East coast officials contend that high, local O3 levels are regularly caused by distant pollution sources. The wind, of course, still blows some pollution in from the Great Lakes to the Eastern Seaboard. Yet, again, compliance is projected for all of New York’s upstate counties. Ditto for most of Virginia and Pennsylvania. Be assured, EPA will take a close look at cross-state transport modeling.

In Sum
As noted, the governors’ assessments really just start the regulatory next steps. And data from many states still needs to be added to complete the national picture. But this preliminary look, based on representative states with familiar problems, shows likely limited program expansion and pollution readings on the low side in places where one might expect much higher numbers. That’s an optimistic way to at least start thinking about next steps.