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ADEQ Director Testifies before Congress in Opposition to EPA Ozone Standard

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by Patrick J. Paul

On Thursday, April 14th, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Misael Cabrera testified before Congress regarding naturally occurring ozone levels in parts of Arizona making it impossible to comply with standards proposed last fall by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking to reduce ozone.

Cabrera was testifying in favor of H.R. 4775, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016, legislation that would delay implementation of EPA’s proposed 70 parts per billion (ppb) ozone standard.

The bill would allow states to pursue cost-effective and practical implementation of EPA’s ozone standards.   Under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program, EPA sets standards for criteria pollutants, including ground-level ozone. EPA initially established ozone standards in 1971, and subsequently revised them in 1979, 1997, and 2008.  However, EPA did not publish implementing regulations for the 2008 standards until March 2015, and states are just beginning to implement those standards. Because EPA then revised these standards in October 2015, states now face the prospect of simultaneously implementing two ozone standards.

Further, states are increasingly confronting other challenges under the statutory construct of the NAAQS implementation program. These challenges range from the agency’s failure to issue timely implementation regulations and guidance when standards are revised, to specific issues relating to foreign emissions or exceptional events, provisions in the statute that have been interpreted to require states to pursue measures that may not be technologically or economically feasible, and the current statutory requirement that EPA review all NAAQS no later than every 5 years.

Cabrera told Congress, that Arizona, as the lead state challenging the 2015 ozone standard, does not support 70 ppb as the appropriate ozone standard. Specifically he testified “[w]e believe that the new standard is simply not achievable in many areas of our State.”

The ADEQ director directly referenced Yuma County, bordered by both Mexico and California, as problematic because industrial sources account for only 0.2 percent of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 5.3 percent of the oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Cabrera also requested that EPA consider interstate and international transportations before areas are classified as nonattainment.