The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is giving states an extra year to develop air quality plans related to the 2015-National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone.

In a June 6 letter sent to U.S. governors, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the extended deadline for promulgating initial area designations for the rule issued by the Obama administration in October 2015 would give the agency more time to assess available information and complete its review of the rule.

When it promulgated the rule, which slashed the current limit of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the decision was based on well-founded concerns for public health. States have begun submitting proposals for area designations under the new standard.

The Trump administration’s review of the rule is more focused on how it will affect businesses. According to the EPA, areas designated as being in “nonattainment” of the standard face consequences, including: “increased regulatory burdens, restrictions on infrastructure investment, and increased costs to businesses.”

Pruitt said the EPA wants to give states “greater flexibility” as they develop their plans. He also noted that the EPA has established an “Ozone Cooperative Compliance Task Force” to develop additional flexibilities for states to comply with the ozone standard.

“Additionally, the Agency is taking time to better understand some lingering, complicated issues so that air attainment decisions can be based on the latest and greatest information,” the EPA said. “This additional time will also provide the agency time to review the 2015 ozone NAAQS, prior to taking this initial implementation step.”

Also, the EPA will evaluate a number of “complex issues that could undermine associated compliance efforts by states and localities,” it said. These include the role that background ozone levels play and whether international transport is appropriately accounted for.

“Since 1980, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have dropped by 63 percent and ozone levels have declined by 33 percent. Despite the continued improvement of air quality, costs associated with compliance of the ozone NAAQS have significantly increased,” the agency said.

 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)