Ground level ozone, which is created by combining the emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight, can cause respiratory health issues and has been on the radar for decades. Since 1980, substantial progress has been made on ozone reduction and levels have fallen 33% while the economy continues to grow. Most recently, the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were evaluating the current ozone standard and proposed earlier this year a new decreased standard of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb). The current standard of 75 ppb was set in March of 2008, and some counties are still not in compliance.
The long awaited decision on the National Ambient Air Quality Standards was announced by the EPA yesterday, and the standard was reduced from 75 ppb to 70 ppb for ground-level ozone, produced by emissions released into the air from industrial plants, utilities, and vehicles. The EPA states that the public health benefits resulting from this new rule are an estimated annual savings of $2.9 to $5.9 billion in health care costs by 2025.
The EPA doesn’t expect states to comply to the new standard right away, and depending on the severity of the specific state’s ozone problem, the majority of states will have until between 2020 and 2025 to meet the standards. California, however, will have a longer period of time to comply, through 2037, due to its decades-long air pollution issues. Although fewer counties are in violation of the new standard than if they had lowered it to 65 ppb, 241 counties will be nonattainment for the 70 ppb standard, and it is estimated that 14 counties outside of California will not meet their deadlines.
States will be required to submit a state implementation plan (SIP) to the EPA for any designated nonattainment areas. The plans will outline how the State will attain and maintain the standard, and will contain control measures and strategies to reduce emissions. Plants that fall under the rule will likely be required to upgrade pollution equipment and monitoring systems to meet the new standard.