EPA Proposes Strengthening the National Ozone Standards


Submitted by Cari Buetow, Environmental Program Coordinator with the City Of Austin,
Austin Transportation Department

On November 26, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposal to strengthen the air quality standards to within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review the standards every five years. The EPA last updated the ozone standards in 2008 and set the standards at 75 ppb; the agency is required by the Clean Air Act to review the standards every five years.

In the most recent review, EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update. Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb can pose serious threats to public health, such as, causing or aggravating asthma and other lung diseases, and ozone has been found to be linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Also, new studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yields.

While ozone levels in the Central Texas continue to improve, progress may not occur quickly enough to remain in compliance under the proposed standards.  It is expected that the EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015.  If EPA sets the new ozone standards at the lowest end of its proposed range –65 ppb – current projections indicate that continuing to strengthen the region’s emission reduction program will be necessary to stay in attainment. If EPA designates Central Texas “nonattainment” for ground-level ozone, which might occur by October 2017, there could be significant economic impacts for the region. New regulations could restrict industrial expansion, delay funding for roadway construction, and increase the cost of doing business throughout the region. The regulatory consequences of a nonattainment designation could last for 25-40 years.

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