EPA Delays Release of New Ozone Air Quality Standards

Source: Cozen O’Connor’s Energy, Environmental and Utilities Group “News Concerning Recent Developments in Energy and Environmental Law” Newsletter, August 16, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is mandated by the Clean Air Act to review ozone national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) every five years. Following the latest scheduled review in 2008, President Bush reduced the allowable limit of ozone in the atmosphere from 84 parts per billion (ppb) to 75 ppb. However, state and environmental groups challenged the 2008 rule in court, claiming that the EPA had ignored its own scientific advisory panel’s unanimous recommendation that the limit be set between 60 and 70 ppb. (More information in the 2008 ruling can be found here.)

Shortly after her appointment as President Obama’s EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson announced that the EPA would revisit the standards set by President Bush in 2008. The pending legal challenges to the ozone standards were suspended in 2009 and the EPA was given time to rework the rule. Administrator Jackson stated the final rules would be announced in August 2010. That self-imposed deadline was extended to October, then December, and most recently, until July 29, 2011. However, the EPA has announced that the July deadline will be missed as well.

Business groups and Congressional Republicans have argued that the EPA should wait to readdress the ozone standards until the next scheduled review in 2013. Because higher standards will place many more areas of the United States out of attainment, opponents of the new rule argue that increased fines, federal oversight, and building restrictions will harm business interests, especially in this fragile economy. (A recent study critiquing EPA’s analysis can be found here.) The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently leading the interagency review process. A new deadline for the rule’s release has not been announced.

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