EPA Says 2008 Ozone Standard Back In Play

Testifying before a House subcommittee on Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson said her agency would move forward with enforcing the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards(NAAQS) for ground-level ozone, the main component of smog, which, thus far, has been held in abeyance as EPA worked to introduce a more stringent standard. Speaking to Congress for the first time since the White House requested withdrawal of the agency’s proposal to reduce the 8-hour “primary” ozone standard down to a range of 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million (ppm), Jackson indicated implementation of the 2008 standard of 0.075 ppm would be done “in a common sense way, minimizing the burden on state and local governments.”

EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy issued a memorandum on Thursday as well, outlining, for the benefit of state and local air agencies, how EPA will proceed. Per McCarthy’s memorandum, the agency will begin making initial area designations, which will identify those areas that are or are not in attainment of the 2008 standard. EPA hopes to finalize those designations by mid-2012. McCarthy indicated that rulemaking to outline implementation requirements will be expedited, further vowing that “[t]he rule will be as straightforward and simple as we can make it.” In the meantime, EPA will continue to implement and develop other rules that reduce emissions of smog-contributing pollutants, such as the recently promulgatedLight and Heavy Duty Vehicle standards.

McCarthy’s memorandum is peppered with references to the litigation EPA is facing over the alleged inadequacy of the 2008 standard, highlighting the standard’s uncertain future. As we have previously blogged, Jackson herself criticized the standard as being “not legally defensible.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set NAAQS for ozone and five other pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The law further requires EPA to periodically review these standards. McCarthy’s memorandum concludes by noting that EPA will be prepared to propose any appropriate revisions to the ozone NAAQS at the next regular review scheduled for 2013.