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Cities Face New Emission Controls Even Without Tighter Ozone Standard

Earlier this month President Obama asked the Environmental Protection Agency to shelve a proposal to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone this year. The Administration was apparently concerned about the cost a tighter standard would impose, and the EPA is required to consider revising the standard in 2013 anyway. Does this mean metropolitan areas are off the hook for additional environmental controls? Nope. Even without a tighter standard, many metropolitan areas will have to adopt more stringent pollution controls in order to meet the revised ozone standard adopted by the Bush Administration in 2008, as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson confirmed in House testimony yesterday. The WSJ reports:

Testifying before a House subcommittee, Ms. Jackson said her agency would enforce an ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, adopted by the EPA in 2008. Until now, the standard had been suspended because of the EPA’s intention to introduce a more stringent measure, and the 1997 standard of 84 parts per billion prevailed.

There are 52 areas where air quality fails to meet the 2008 standard, the EPA said in a memo to state officials. Among them are Baltimore, San Diego, Dallas-Fort Worth and parts of Los Angeles. Ms. Jackson said the EPA would enforce the standard in a “common-sense way” to minimize the burden on state and local governments.

In practical terms, this shows how the Obama Administration’s decision not to tighten the ozone standard this year will not have a significant environmental effect in the near– to medium– term. Those areas with the worst ozone pollution do not meet either standard, so such areas would be required to adopt more stringent regulations either way. As for areas that meet the 2008 standard but would fail to meet more stringent requirements, the compliance date for a revised standard would be years off anyway, so if a more stringent standard is adopted in 2013 as many expect, the practical effect will be small.

While the EPA now plans to enforce the 2008 standard, there is some question whether it will be the standard for long. Not only is a scheduled revision only two years away, but legal challenges against the rule by both environmentalist and industry groups are pending in federal court as well. Given the EPA’s poor record of defending Bush-era air quality rules, it’s certainly possible one of these challenges will succeed.

Originally posted at the Volokh Conspiracy.

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