EPA Announces Ground-Level Ozone Final Rule, Proposes Emissions Trading Alternative To Help Improve Visibility

In the past week, EPA has announced two clean air actions: final action to continue progress toward meeting a stronger 8-hour ozone standard by revoking the prior, less stringent 1-hour standard; and a proposed emissions trading program to help state and tribal governments improve visibility in national parks and wilderness areas.

Ozone Final Rule

In the same action with the final action, announced on July 27, EPA is making exceptions for 14 "Early Action Compact" areas, which will still be covered by the 1-hour standard as they work to meet the 8-hour standard ahead of schedule.

Due to the terms of the compact, these areas must keep certain 1-hour ozone controls in place until they meet the more protective 8-hour ozone standard. In exchange for a deferred effective date of their 8-hour ozone designation, Early Action Compact areas have agreed to take action to achieve clean air earlier than required under the 8-hour standard -- no later than Dec. 31, 2007. In light of the revocation of the 1-hour ozone standard, minor technical changes were also made to the Code of Federal Regulations to accommodate the areas that are technically still covered by the old standard.

EPA issued the 8-hour ozone standard in July 1997, based on information demonstrating that the 1-hour standard was inadequate for protecting public health. Scientific information shows that ozone can affect human health at lower levels, and over longer exposure times than one hour. The 8-hour ozone standard is 0.08 parts per million (ppm), averaged over eight hours. The 1- hour standard was 0.12 ppm, measured in hourly readings. After a lengthy legal battle, the courts upheld the new ozone standard and a new standard for fine particle pollution. Working with State, Tribal and local environmental agencies, EPA is now in the process of implementing these new standards.

To learn more about the July 27 action, visit http://www.epa.gov/ozonedesignations.

Emissions Trading Alternative

EPA's proposal, which expands on the Clean Air Visibility Rule, outlines an alternative emissions trading program that gives flexibility for states or tribal government in ways to apply Best Alternative Retrofit Technology (BART). The BART requirements would be satisfied if the trading program meets or exceeds the visibility benefits resulting from BART.

The BART requirements of the Clean Air Visibility Rule apply to industrial facilities, built between 1962 and 1977, that emit air pollutants that reduce visibility by causing or contributing to regional haze. The Clean Air Visibility Rule, including the BART requirements finalized on June 15, 2005, will provide approximately $240 million annually in visibility improvements in southeastern and southwestern parks. The rule will also provide substantial health benefits in the range of $8.4 billion to $9.8 billion each year -- preventing an estimated 1,600 premature deaths, 2,200 non-fatal heart attacks, 960 hospital admissions, and more than 1 million lost school and work days, according to the agency. The total annual costs of this rule range from $1.4 to $1.5 billion. The proposal, announced on July 21, applies to an emissions trading alternative that states and tribes may use to improve visibility in specially protected areas.

The changes would clarify that a state should consider visibility improvement at the same time it considers economic factors, when determining the emissions reductions achievable from BART. Previously, states were required to consider visibility improvement on a cumulative basis, only after considering economic factors on a source-by-source basis.

The proposed emissions trading rule will be open for public comment for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. For information about EPA's regional haze program, this proposal and how to make public comment visit http://www.epa.gov/visibility.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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