EPA Inches Closer to a More Stringent Ozone Standard: When Will It Actually See the Light of Day?

Posted on February 11, 2014 by Seth Jaffe

Last week, EPA released its second external review draft of an updated Policy Assessment on the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. It also released updated draft risk and exposure assessments. To no one’s surprise, the new drafts confirm support for lowering the ozone NAAQS from 75 ppb to a range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb.

Why is this not a surprise?  Because, as I noted some time ago, the prior draft policy assessment also supported a NAAQS in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Moreover, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee weighed in on the prior draft, supporting a standard in the 60 ppb to 70 ppb range. In fact, before getting cold feet, CASAC had indicated that the data would support a standard below 60 ppb.

Courts’ deference to CASAC determinations on these issues is pretty well established. It seems clear that EPA has to lower the NAAQS to at most 70 ppb in order to survive judicial review. It’s not even obvious that 70 ppb would stick, though that will be clearer after CASAC has reviewed this most recent draft Policy Assessment.

The other significant question is when EPA will actually issue the new standard. After all, EPA was prepared to issue a new standard in 2011 or early 2012, when the White House put the proverbial kibosh on EPA’s plans. Will EPA somehow manage to delay issuance of the new standard until after the November elections? Now that the Super Bowl is over, I think that the Vegas bookies are putting their money on after.

Arkansas Legislature Takes Pre-Emptive Strike At New NAAQS Implementation

Posted on July 10, 2013 by Charles Nestrud

In April of 2013 the Arkansas legislature put an end to the ad hoc policy of implementing the NAAQS through stationary source permitting based upon source specific NAAQS modeling.  The Arkansas legislature did not need a crystal ball to predict the chaos that was about to occur when the new NAAQS (PM2.5, one hour SO2 and one hour NO2) were swept into the existing Arkansas regulatory program.  Arkansas’ environmental agency, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has relied upon its stationary source permitting program to implement the NAAQS for years, as opposed to relying upon state implementation plan (SIP) development.  ADEQ has required every permit applicant to submit air dispersion modeling, and thereby demonstrate that the source will not cause a NAAQS violation.  By comparison, EPA generally requires only PSD permit applicants to submit NAAQS dispersion modeling, and requires the states to otherwise address NAAQS compliance through their SIPs.

When Arkansas’ SIP permit procedures were last updated in 2000, minor (non-Title V) sources, and “minor modifications” at major sources were not required to undertake NAAQS modeling.  Arkansas’ policies regarding NAAQS modeling were generally in sync with the Clean Air Act and most other states.  Over the ensuing years regulatory creep expanded Arkansas’ NAAQS modeling program to the point that nearly every stationary source permit application was involved.  ADEQ permit engineers required NAAQS dispersion modeling for minor sources, for minor mods at major sources, and then for any permit renewal—even no change renewals, “just to make sure that the source is still OK.”  For example, a facility that had operated in full permit compliance for decades, without any modifications, could face permit renewal problems for no reason other than background conditions or recent meteorological data changed the NAAQS modeling results.  Suffice to say this development was unpopular, making permitting expensive, time consuming, and uncertain.   

The uncertainty was predicted to become chaos in September of 2012 when ADEQ proposed to drop the new NAAQS into its existing SIP. ADEQ’s “plan” was that the new NAAQS would also be implemented through stationary source permitting, including ADEQ’s expansive NAAQS modeling policies.  Of particular concern is the PM2.5 standard, which, at 12 ug/cm3, is already near or exceeded by the background levels measured at the majority of the ambient monitoring stations throughout the state—background that is rarely, if ever, the result of any stationary source activity, but more likely the result of rural road dust and other non-stationary sources.  

It became apparent to the regulated community that each permit review following adoption of the new NAAQS would generate ad hoc findings of modeled exceedances of the new NAAQS.  By implementing the NAAQS through stationary source permitting rather than SIP planning, ADEQ eliminated any evaluation of regional cause and effect, and precluded any consideration of comprehensive solutions that involve all contributing sources. Under ADEQ’s “plan,” the unwitting permit applicant is forced to stand alone and face the consequences of a failed NAAQS modeling exercise.  Concerns raised by the regulated community fell on deaf ears.

The Arkansas legislature stepped in, and in April of 2013 it enacted Act 1302, which required ADEQ to stop “protecting the NAAQS” by requiring stationary source permit applicants to undertake dispersion modeling, except in enumerated circumstances. Act 1302 prohibits ADEQ from using modeling for stationary source permit decisions or requiring retrofit pollution control technology.  With the exception of PSD and other limited situations, dispersion modeling can only be used when there is a source or pollutant-specific SIP requirement.  The Clean Air Act requires states to develop a SIP “for maintenance and protection of the NAAQS,” and Act 1302 requires ADEQ to implement the NAAQS as required by the Clean Air Act.  The legislature did not neuter the agency’s efforts to protect clean air (which was the agency’s unsuccessful lobbying position).  The legislature just said quit implementing the NAAQS through ad hoc permit decisions based on source specific air dispersion modeling.  The legislature told ADEQ to use its ambient monitoring network, area modeling, and other tools to evaluate NAAQS compliance, and where non-attainment occurs, do the comprehensive planning that is required by the Clean Air Act  to address it.  Act 1302 was carefully drafted to compliment the Clean Air Act, and serves as a good model for any state facing similar NAAQS implementation issues.    

During the two months since Act 1302 has been the law in Arkansas the agency has gone through some needed growing pains. The proposed rulemaking to enact the new NAAQS in Arkansas is being re-evaluated in light of the requirements of Act 1302.    Much of the regulatory creep that occurred over the past decade has been curtailed, such that minor sources, minor modifications and no change permit renewals are no longer being required to submit dispersion modeling or demonstrate NAAQS compliance.  

There is nothing like the heavy hand of the legislature to bring reason back into agency decision making.  It appears that ADEQ now recognizes (much like most other states) that modeling has its limitations, and these minor stationary source projects are not causing, nor are they likely to cause any NAAQS problems. There is still a lot of work to be done as the new NAAQS are adopted, and real SIP planning commences.  But sometimes it takes a pre-emptive strike to get the process started on the right track.

Interstate Air Transport - The Next Steps

Posted on April 12, 2013 by David Flannery

The August 21, 2012 decision of the D.C. Circuit Court in EME Homer City Generation LP v. EPA, Case No. 11-1302, not only vacated the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), it also provided a detailed framework (including the math) for how future plans should be developed by States to implement national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) through the “good neighbor” provisions of the Clean Air Act.  This case has already been the subject of various posts to this Blog.  This article will provide an update of activities that have occurred in recent weeks as state and federal agencies, NGOs and the regulated community respond to the decision and its implications for implementing the various NAAQS (past, present and future). 

Let me begin by noting that on March 29, 2013, EPA and various environmental organizations filed for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. Even as EPA was filing for such a writ, EPA has scheduled two meetings this month with states to obtain input on technical and policy decisions. In these meetings, EPA is offering its interpretation of the court decision and its views about various options that exist for conducting the required analyses through the shared responsibility of EPA and the states. 

Finally, the Midwest Ozone Group (MOG), a coalition of electric power generation interests, has developed a position statement on how the court opinion might be implemented including the identification of the following seven rules taken from the court opinion. 

1.    Basic rule - An upwind State’s obligation is limited to its own significant contribution and it cannot be directed to reduce emissions to account for any other factors impacting a downwind State’s nonattainment.
2.    Proportionality of Downwind States - A downwind State is responsible for above-NAAQS amounts that are not attributable to significant contributions from upwind States.
3.    Proportionality of Upwind States - The ratio of an individual upwind State contribution to the total contribution of all upwind States should be used as scalar to determine how the total upwind contribution is allocated among upwind States.
4.    The Role of Costs - EPA may reduce some or all of the obligations of upwind States to avoid the imposition of unreasonable costs.
5.    Insignificance - Once contributions are determined, a State is not required to address more than that contribution amount minus the significance threshold. 
6.    NAAQS Attainment - Once an area meets the NAAQS, no additional upwind emission reductions are required.
7.    Over-Control - When multiple downwind areas are concerned, reductions associated with one downwind area should be reviewed in other areas to ensure unnecessary over control is not achieved

The full position statement can be found here.

The MOG position statement is accompanied by a presentation prepared by Alpine Geophysics which applies an example set of modeling data to these rules to illustrate how the rules might be applied as well as the significant technical and policy questions that remain.  The Alpine Geophysics presentation can be found here.

ARE THE NAAQS AN OBSOLETE CONCEPT?

Posted on February 8, 2011 by Roger Ferland

* My thanks to Gary E. Marchant, J.D., Ph.D., Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics, Center for Law, Science & Innovation at Arizona State University. He is the brains behind this blog entry.

 

One of the founding principles of the Clean Air Act is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards or NAAQS. Attainment and preservation of the NAAQS is the goal of State Implementation Plans, the permit system is intended to protect the NAAQS and most of the technology-based emission limitations are for the control of NAAQS-based pollutants. However, several of the premises for setting the NAAQS are no longer either scientifically or legally supportable.

After almost forty years, the criteria for establishing the NAAQS are settled.

  • The level of the NAAQS must protect public health with "an adequate margin of safety."
  • In setting NAAQS, EPA cannot consider the cost or feasibility of achieving it.
  • The NAAQS must not only protect the general public, but also there must be an absence of adverse effects on "susceptible" or "sensitive" subgroups and individuals.
  • According to EPA, "susceptible" subgroups and individuals can be defined by:
    • Life stages, e.g., children, the elderly or pregnant women
    • Prior immune reactions
    • Disease state, e.g., asthmatics
    • Prior damage to cells or all systems
    • What is called "genetic polymorphism," the small, but significant percentage of the population who have genetic susceptibilities to certain toxins

 

The problem is that if EPA declares that the NAAQS must prevent adverse health impacts on this range of susceptible subgroups and individuals, the only level that can prevent adverse effects across the range is zero.

For the last three decades the achievement of no adverse clinical effects with an adequate margin of safety has caused the NAAQS to be set at lower and lower concentrations. Indeed, the controversy over a more and more stringent ozone NAAQS was heightened by a recent EPA study that showed decreased lung functions among even healthy individuals at 0.060 µ/m3. These, however, are only clinical adverse effects. If all toxcogenomic or gene expression changes that are indicative of a toxic response are considered, it is hard to justify any concentration but zero for the NAAQS. As EPA has acknowledged in criteria documents for the PM-10, lead, ozone and NOx NAAQS, genomic susceptibility plays an adverse role in responses to inhalation of these pollutants, particularly with respect to specific individuals or certain groups. For these individuals or groups there is no concentration of NAAQS pollutants that will guarantee an adequate margin of safety. For example, 100,000 Americans have a condition called an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. People with this condition are predisposed to emphysema and other serious lung diseases from exposure to any level of smoke or dust. Similar genetic susceptibility to any level of certain pollutants above zero can be shown for a wide range of pollutants, individuals and genetically sensitive groups.

The point in all of this is that if we continue to require a no adverse effects with an adequate margin of safety as a minimum criterion for the NAAQS with no consideration of cost or practicable achievability, the inevitable result will eventually be a scientific train wreck.
 

More on a New Ozone NAAQS: EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee Endorses EPA's Proposed Range

Posted on February 1, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

EPA has proposed lowering the NAAQS to a range of from 0.060 ppm – 0.070 ppm. Earlier this week, EPA’s Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, or CASAC, met and endorsed EPA’s proposed range. Some CASAC members did express concern about EPA’s proposed secondary seasonal standard, intended to protect crops and forests. However, overall, the CASAC seal of approval is pretty much the end of this argument.

It is important to recall how we got here. CASAC already endorsed the 0.060 ppm – 0.070 range several years ago, before EPA’s last ozone standard was issued. It was EPA’s refusal to follow the CASAC recommendations, and instead propose a 0.075 ppm standard, which led to litigation challenging the standard and the current controversy. 

It is difficult to overstate the weight given the CASAC’s views. Indeed, EPA’s fine particulate standard was vacated in significant part because EPA failed to follow CASAC’s recommendations.

Thus, a standard that does not comport with CASAC’s recommendations would likely be rejected by the courts as arbitrary and capricious. However, I suspect that CASAC’s influence also runs the other way. Assuming that EPA does indeed promulgate a revised NAAQS in the 0.060 ppm – 0.070 ppm range, and assuming that industrial interests challenge the new standard, it will be very difficult to establish that the new standard is arbitrary and capricious if it has been endorsed by CASAC. 

As I noted in connection with the fine particulate standard, it’s not obvious to me that this is a good thing. Depending on whose ox is being gored, anyone can get up on a soapbox and say that they want science to be free of politics. However, these are really policy decisions. It’s one thing to acknowledge that these are complicated issues and we thus have to allow Congress to delegate its authority to the EPA administrator. It’s another effectively to delegate the decision further to the CASAC, which is about as obscure an acronym body as we have. Do we really want standards which will result in compliance costs in at least the tens of billions of dollars being made by groups which truly are not accountable in any meaningful way?

Another Loss For the Bush EPA; The D.C. Court of Appeals Remands the Fine Particulate Standard

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

The batting average of the Bush administration EPA in appeals of its regulatory proposals may now have dropped below the proverbial Mendoza line. This week, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded a substantial part of EPA’s particulate rule. That the Bush administration could achieve results where the Mendoza line is even a close metaphor is a testament to just how low its stock has fallen in the courts.

 

The case itself is important for a number of reasons, but is too lengthy for detailed analysis here. Highlights include:

·                     First, the basic holding: the court remanded EPA’s primary annual standard for PM2.5, because EPA did not justify that the 15 ug/m3 standard was sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Second, the court also remanded EPA’s determination of the secondary, public welfare, standard for PM2.5.

·                     The court gave great weight to the role of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) and staff recommendations in the regulatory process. After this decision, EPA is going to think twice about choosing a regulatory course difference than that recommended by CASAC and staff. On balance, I think that this is a bad thing and more evidence of the collateral damage from the extreme positions taken by the Bush administration. After all, while the Clean Air Act sets some boundaries, these are ultimately policy decisions that should be made by the President and his or her chosen staff, not by a committee no one’s heard of or low-level staff.

·                     Unlike the chaos created when the court vacated the CAIR regulations, the court appears to have learned its lesson. This time around, the court remanded the rule, but left the standard in place for now.

·                     The court’s decision to remand the public welfare standard will have implications for current efforts to implement the its Regional Haze Rule. The extent to which this decision throws Haze Rule implementation back to the drawing board may not be known for some time.

How many more cases can the Bush administration lose after it’s already out of office? At least one. Greenwire reports today about speculation that this decision means that the EPA rules regarding the nitrogen oxide NAAQS may also be in trouble.

The interesting question in all this is the extent to which the abysmal record of the Bush EPA in defending its decisions in the courts will damage EPA’s credibility and thus result in a long-term weakening of the deference given EPA by the courts. At this point, my assumption is that, in the long run, these cases will be seen as an aberration and courts will resume their prior practice of granting EPA substantial deference. Of course, whether that is a good thing or not is a separate question.

Another Loss For the Bush EPA; The D.C. Court of Appeals Remands the Fine Particulate Standard

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Seth Jaffe

The batting average of the Bush administration EPA in appeals of its regulatory proposals may now have dropped below the proverbial Mendoza line. This week, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded a substantial part of EPA’s particulate rule. That the Bush administration could achieve results where the Mendoza line is even a close metaphor is a testament to just how low its stock has fallen in the courts.

 

The case itself is important for a number of reasons, but is too lengthy for detailed analysis here. Highlights include:

·                     First, the basic holding: the court remanded EPA’s primary annual standard for PM2.5, because EPA did not justify that the 15 ug/m3 standard was sufficient to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Second, the court also remanded EPA’s determination of the secondary, public welfare, standard for PM2.5.

·                     The court gave great weight to the role of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) and staff recommendations in the regulatory process. After this decision, EPA is going to think twice about choosing a regulatory course difference than that recommended by CASAC and staff. On balance, I think that this is a bad thing and more evidence of the collateral damage from the extreme positions taken by the Bush administration. After all, while the Clean Air Act sets some boundaries, these are ultimately policy decisions that should be made by the President and his or her chosen staff, not by a committee no one’s heard of or low-level staff.

·                     Unlike the chaos created when the court vacated the CAIR regulations, the court appears to have learned its lesson. This time around, the court remanded the rule, but left the standard in place for now.

·                     The court’s decision to remand the public welfare standard will have implications for current efforts to implement the its Regional Haze Rule. The extent to which this decision throws Haze Rule implementation back to the drawing board may not be known for some time.

How many more cases can the Bush administration lose after it’s already out of office? At least one. Greenwire reports today about speculation that this decision means that the EPA rules regarding the nitrogen oxide NAAQS may also be in trouble.

The interesting question in all this is the extent to which the abysmal record of the Bush EPA in defending its decisions in the courts will damage EPA’s credibility and thus result in a long-term weakening of the deference given EPA by the courts. At this point, my assumption is that, in the long run, these cases will be seen as an aberration and courts will resume their prior practice of granting EPA substantial deference. Of course, whether that is a good thing or not is a separate question.