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NEW LOWER OZONE STANDARDS PROPOSED BY EPA

BOISE - Treasure Valley Clean Cities Coalition stakeholders recently learned that on Nov. 25, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality (NAAQ) standards for ground-level ozone (O3) to between 65 and 70 ppb from the current 75 ppb standard.

David Luft, Airshed Manager at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said the proposed strengthening of the standard is based on studies that show levels at or below the current standard can pose serious health risks to the public.He explained that ozone, a key component of smog, can irritate and damage lung tissue, and can aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases. Those most susceptible are children, asthmatics, the elderly and those who are very active outdoors. Secondary impacts of ozone include damage to trees and crops.

Luft was one of three speakers who spoke to an audience of 20 TVCCC members on December 14, 2014 about ground-level ozone. He said the Treasure Valley has been in compliance with current ozone standards, which were implemented in 2008.

Mike McGowan, Idaho Air Coordinator and Smoke Management Coordinator for Region 10 EPA, said air quality standards are revisited every five years and that the EPA is under a court-ordered deadline to revise 03 standards. He explained that an extensive body of scientific evidence indicates that the current standard is not adequate to protect public health.

McGowan said the EPA is proposing the new standard of 65-70 parts per billion (ppb)  based on the conclusions of a Clean Air Scientific Committee for a standard in the range of 60-70 ppb. The EPA administrator did not propose the lower end of the range (60-64 ppb) due to uncertainty in the data provided, he said.

McGowen said the cost nationwide to implement the lower standards is estimated at between $3.9 billion (70 ppb) and $15 billion (65 pbb).

Luft said that under a court order, the final NAAQ standard must be released by the fall of 2015. He explained that DEQ will make a standard recommendation to the EPA using data collected between 2014-16.

Some things the public and businesses can do to reduce ozone levels are reducing vehicles miles traveled, tuning up your vehicle and avoid idling, limiting paint and solvent use, not burning waste, and keeping gas-powered lawn and garden equipment maintained, or consider replacing with alternative fuel (such as propane) or electric models. 

The implementation schedule for the new standards is as follows:

  • Ninety-day public comment period begins in early 2015
  • Three public meetings to be held in early 2015
  • Final Rule issued in November 2015
  • State recommendations will be submitted by October 2016
  • The EPA final designations will be made in October 2017
  • Air quality improvement plans will be conducted over the next three to 20 years.

Luft said if the Treasure Valley "goes into non-attainment" regarding ozone levels, officials would have to develop a plan to address the problem. Economic impacts of non-compliance could include difficulty for new business to locate, or to modify existing businesses; more stringent permitting requirements; and the stigma of non-attainment.