EPA refuses to expand ozone transport region
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November 08, 2017
EPA refuses to expand ozone transport region

The EPA has formally denied a petition from nine Northeastern states to add nine additional states to the Ozone Transport Region (OTR). The OTR states submitted their petition in 2013, and the EPA, under then President Barack Obama and Administrator Gina McCarthy, published the proposed denial in the January 19, 2017, Federal Register (FR), one day before Donald Trump assumed the presidency.

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The petitioning states argued that air pollution transported from upwind states outside the OTR were contributing substantially to the inability of the OTR states to attain the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone. Inclusion of these upwind states in the OTR would compel them to control the problematic pollution, the petition continued.

But in the denial, the EPA asserts that there are other, more effective measures provided by the Clean Air Act (CAA) to address interstate pollution. “Reliance on these other CAA authorities is a more appropriate use of the agency’s limited resources,” says the EPA.

Expansion needed to OTR attainment

Under CAA Section 184(b), states in the OTR must implement certain controls on major sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) statewide regardless of whether the source is located in an ozone nonattainment area. In contrast, controls in non-OTR states are required only in nonattainment areas. The 2013 petition points out that some non-OTR states even obtain a waiver from the control requirements.

“We believe expansion of the transport region and implementation of the required controls in upwind states are necessary for all of the OTR to achieve attainment in a timely manner,” the petitioning states wrote.

The EPA has CAA authority to add any state to any transport region whenever the administrator has reason to believe that the interstate transport of air pollutants from such state significantly contributes to a violation of the standard in the transport region.

The petition was signed by the OTR states Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These states requested the OTR be expanded with the addition of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and the areas of Virginia not already in the OTR.

Good neighbor provisions sufficient

In denying the petition, the Agency states generally that, in respect to the 2008 ozone NAAQS, it believes that continuation of the “longstanding and effective utilization of the existing and expected control programs under CAA’s mandatory good neighbor provision embodied in Section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) is a more effective means of addressing regional ozone pollution transport for the areas within the OTR that must attain the NAAQS than expanding the OTR as requested.”

The EPA says it has consistently and repeatedly used its authority under Section 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) to approve state implementation plans (SIPs) for reducing ozone transport or to promulgate federal implementation plans (FIPs) to specifically focus on the sources of ozone transport both within and outside the OTR.

“The NOx SIP Call, Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), CSAPR Update, and numerous individual SIP approvals demonstrate that the EPA has a long history of using its CAA Section 110 authority to specifically address interstate pollution transport in a tailored way that is specific to a NAAQS and set of pollution sources that are the primary contributors to interstate pollution transport,” says the Agency. “Using the authority of the good neighbor provision has allowed the EPA to focus its efforts on pollution sources that are responsible for the largest contributions to ozone transport and that can cost-effectively reduce emissions, and also enables the agency to focus on NOX as the primary driver of long range ozone transport—an approach the courts have found to be a reasonable means of addressing interstate ozone transport.”

The VOC factor

Furthermore, says the EPA, the petitioners have not demonstrated that the suite of mandatory controls that would apply to new states added to the OTR would be a more effective means than its current approach under the good neighbor provision for addressing any remaining ozone transport problems with respect to the 2008 NAAQS.

“For instance, the EPA has previously explained that authoritative assessments of ozone control approaches have concluded that VOC reductions are generally most effective for addressing ozone locally, including in dense urbanized areas and immediately downwind,” the Agency says. “Yet granting this petition would require mandatory VOC controls pursuant to Section 184(b) over a vast region that would not be local to or near the remaining ozone problems in the OTR that the petition aims to address. Petitioners have not connected these types of VOC reductions over such a wide region with specific air quality benefits within the existing OTR. The EPA continues to believe that NOX emissions reduction strategies are more effective than VOC reductions in lowering ozone concentrations over longer distances. Reductions in anthropogenic VOC emissions will typically have less of an impact on the long-range transport of ozone, although these emissions reductions can be effective in reducing ozone in nearby urban areas where ozone production may be limited by the availability of VOCs.”

The Agency also points out the data used in the petition are now dated and do not reflect the sustained trend of declining emissions and improved air quality.

The final notice of denial was published in the November 3, 2017, FR.

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