New Air Quality Standards May Impact Local Industries

Environmental Law

 

On November 25, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA”) released long awaited proposed rules intended to strengthen the O3 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone in the United States (40 CFR Parts 50, 51, 52, 53, and 58).  These rules are expected to impact a number of industries, especially the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.  The EPA is currently accepting comments on the proposed rule and will continue to do so until March 17, 2015.  Anyone impacted by the proposed rule is encouraged to submit comments at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/12/17/2014-28674/national-ambient-air-quality-standards-for-ozone.

Ground-level ozone, commonly referred to as “bad ozone,” is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.  Unlike “good ozone,” which is created in the upper atmosphere and helps to protect the earth from some of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, bad ozone is created by pollutants from, among other things, manufacturing and motor vehicle emissions.  Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to set two standards for ground-level ozone: a “primary standard” to protect public health, including at-risk groups (children, the elderly, and those with lung-related diseases), and a “secondary standard” to protect the public welfare, including the environment and plant life.  In an effort to protect both the public health and welfare, the EPA is proposing new primary and secondary standards.

Under the proposed rule, both standards measuring the amount of O3 in the air would be strengthened from the existing 75 parts per billion (75 ppb) to a measurement within the range of 65 to 70 ppb.  The EPA is also taking comments on decreasing the range as low as 60 ppb for the primary standard.  Simply explained, the standards would be measured by a “daily maximum 8-hour average,”[1] meaning that the daily “concentration” is determined by taking the highest 8-hour average for the 17 8-hour periods starting between 7:00 A.M. and 11:00 P.M. (e.g. the first 8-hour period being 7:00 A.M. through 3:00 P.M., the second being 8:00 A.M. through 4:00 P.M., etc.).[2] The fourth highest daily maximum 8-hour average of O3 concentration would be averaged for three years to determine if a site area has met the new standards.[3] These measurements would be made using a chemiluminescence analyzer.[4] Implementation of methods to satisfy these new standards will be the responsibility of each state, although the EPA expects most counties to meet the standards by 2025.

This new standard could have a substantial impact on many local industries.  In particular, because power plants and other large-scale emitters have already been outfitted with reduction technologies to decrease ozone pollutants, the cost of targeting these emitters may be prohibitive.  This may cause other industries to shoulder much of the reduction cost.  It is foreseeable that the manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation industries could be encouraged to adopt “low-emission technologies” and discontinue the use of older equipment.  Such technologies include new electric-hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles, CFC free refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, and scrubbers for boilers.[5] While these technologies have become more commercially solvent over the past decade or two, the costs of retrofitting entire vehicle fleets or shops may prove costly in these sectors.  The impact on local industries, such as Long Island’s agricultural sector and municipal transportation systems, may be substantial.  Many industries, however, may have already adopted these cleaner technologies and may not deem it necessary to make such alterations.  It should also be noted that Long Island’s healthcare industry may feel a bit of a pinch in adopting these new technologies, but it should also see a slight shrinking of demand moving forward as a result of the potential health benefits stemming from the rule’s implementation.

The EPA has published estimated costs and benefits for the new standards in the billions of dollars.[6] According to EPA’s calculations, the nationwide costs of strengthening the standard to 70 ppb by 2025 would be approximately $3.9 billion.  To strengthen the standard to 65 ppb by 2025 would cost an estimated $15 billion.  These estimates exclude California because the EPA has granted extensions to several counties to meet these standards.  California’s estimated costs are $800 million for 70 ppb and $1.6 billion for 65 ppb.  Despite these projected costs, EPA estimates the benefits to be tremendous.  The EPA expects that reducing the ground level ozone to the proposed levels will yield annual health benefits of $6.4 billion to $13 billion at 70 ppb and $19 billion to $38 billion for 65 ppb.  California estimates the benefits in its state to be $1.1 billion to $2 billion for 70 ppb and $2.2 billion to $4.1 billion for 65 ppb.  Money aside, the EPA also estimates anywhere from 750 to 4,300 fewer premature deaths and 790 to 2,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis in children.[7] Asthma-related emergency visits should also decrease, among other things.

Industry groups have already published studies in opposition to the proposed rule claiming that the implementation costs and the economic consequences of the rule will be severe.    For example, the National Association of Manufacturers commissioned a study highlighting the negative economic impacts of the rule[8] and several politicians, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, have claimed that the rule would have serious impacts on national GDP, family budgets, and national workforce growth.[9] According to opponents, the long-term costs of the proposed rule include an annual reduction of the national GDP by billions of dollars, a decrease in average household consumption, and an increase in energy costs.  Some opponents to the rule simply argue that there is insufficient evidence to encourage stricter standards.[10]

Please remember that the comment period for this Rule is open through March 17, 2015.  The rule will likely impact many regional industries and we encourage all who may be affected to submit a comment.  If you have any questions regarding the proposed amendments to 40 CFR Parts 50, 51, 52, 53, and 58, or air emissions in general, please contact Miriam E. Villani or Michael J. Barone, Jr.

 

The author acknowledges Michael J. Barone, Jr., for his contribution to this article.


[1] Environmental Protection Agency, 79 F.R. 75234, 75396 (Proposed December 17, 2014).

[2] Id. at 75402.

[3] Id. at 75396.

[4] Id. at 75397.

[5] EPA, Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Proposed Revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ground-Level Ozone at 7-19,http://www.epa.gov/ttn/ecas/regdata/RIAs/20141125ria.pdf.

[6] Id. at 8-4.

[7] Id. at ES-14 – ES-15.

[8] Assessing Economic Impacts of a Stricter National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ozone, Nera Economic Consulting (July 2014), http://www.nam.org/Issues/Environment/Ozone-Regulations/NERA-NAM-Ozone-Full-Report-20140726.pdf.

[9] Joe Koncelik, EPA’s Long Anticipated Ozone Decision, Ohio Environmental Law Blog (Dec. 1, 2014), http://www.ohioenvironmentallawblog.com/tags/naaqs/.

[10] Coral Davenport, E.P.A. Ozone Rules Divide Industry and Environmentalists, N.Y. Times, (Nov. 26, 2014), available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/27/us/epa-ozone-limits-divide-industry-and-environmentalists.html?_r=0.

 

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