The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is revising a rule that limits ozone air pollution from upwind states, including Indiana, that contribute to air pollution problems in downwind states on the east coast.
The proposed Revised Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update would further limit ozone and ozone precursor emissions from power plants in Indiana and 11 other states to prevent the pollution from being carried downwind to other states, making them unable to meet the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone.
Ground-level ozone, also known as smog, is one of six criteria pollutants directly regulated by the Clean Air Act. Various administrations have modified the standards, making them stricter over time.
The gas is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by cars, power plants and other industrial sources mix with radiation from sunlight.
Breathing ozone can trigger a series of health problems like chest pain, throat irritation, airway inflammation, reduced lung function and lung tissue damage. It can also worsen other health issues, like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
The standard set in 2008, which the revised rule targets, limits ozone concentrations to 75 parts per billion.
The update was originally implemented in late 2016, but a federal court found it was violating the Clean Air Act by failing to fully eliminate significant contributions to nonattainment and maintenance of the 2008 ozone standards.
The court ordered the EPA to redo the update, which sets stricter but flexible ozone emissions budgets for electric generating units in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
The proposed plan would limit the state of Indiana’s nitrous oxide emissions budget to 12,500 tons in 2021 and would require reductions to fall to 9,447 tons by 2024. The budgets are not strict, as states will be allowed to emit up to 21% more than their budgets to account for ozone season variability.
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the rule is a demonstration of the Trump administration’s commitment to improving air quality across the nation.
“This update to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will alleviate interstate air pollution and improve quality of life for many Americans,” Wheeler said in a press release.
Environmental and health advocacy groups said they were glad the EPA has taken action to attempt to reduce pollution, but the proposal does not go far enough to protect people living near emissions sites or in downwind states.
“Against the backdrop of four years of pro-polluter giveaways, this is a partial step forward, and it stands out. Unfortunately, this proposal still allows large interstate contributions to unhealthy ozone levels to continue,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Neil Gormley. “Remember that we’re talking here about continuing violations of the health standard adopted in 2008. Allowing this pollution to continue 12 years later and beyond is completely unacceptable. There’s no legal justification for EPA’s passivity.”
Another part of the proposal that is drawing negative attention is the expansion of a trading program, which will allow polluters to sell off their remaining emissions left in their budget.
“If EPA simply followed the statute and prohibited all the pollution it’s required to prohibit, the public health and environmental benefit would massively outweigh the cost,” Gormley said. “EPA must restrict the use of traded emissions credits to ensure that healthy air is actually achieved and that everyone benefits, including low income communities and communities of color disproportionately harmed by air pollution and by other systemic injustices.”
“We urge the agency to consider seriously the potential negative impact of a trading program on environmental justice communities,” said Ann B. Weeks, legal director of the Clean Air Task Force.
The EPA is accepting comments on the rule until Dec. 14. They can be submitted online through the regulations.gov website, by entering docket identification number EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-0272. They can also be faxed to (202) 566-9744, emailed popup:yes or mailed to the EPA’s Docket Center.