U.S. EPA is giving states an extra year to meet Obama-era ozone regulations.
The agency will delay implementation of its 2015 ground-level ozone standard by one year to give states more time to develop air quality plans, Administrator Scott Pruitt announced late today in a move certain to cheer business groups and infuriate environmentalists.
States turned in their nonattainment recommendations last fall for areas that fail to meet the 70-parts-per-billion standard. EPA had been scheduled to make the final designations by this October, starting the clock on long-term efforts to bring those areas into attainment. The delay, announced in a letter to governors today, will push those designations back to 2018.
"States have made tremendous progress and significant investment cleaning up the air," Pruitt said in a statement. "We will continue to work with states to ensure they are on a path to compliance."
The release also cited points raised by critics of the ozone threshold, including the need to fully understand the role of background ozone levels and appropriately accounting for ozone from foreign sources.
Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is primarily a summertime phenomenon produced by the reaction of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in sunshine. It has been linked to worsened emphysema symptoms and increased likelihood of asthma attacks.
The previous standard, set in 2008, had been 75 ppb. Then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy lowered it to 70 ppb in October 2015, citing the need to protect public health.
Welcoming the postponement announced today was Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is sponsoring legislation to delay implementation of the 70 ppb standard until the middle of the next decade. In a statement this evening, she alluded to the fact that some areas of the country are still implementing the 2008 limit.
"The overlapping standards have caused regulatory confusion, even as ozone emissions have continued to decline," Capito said. "However, Congress must now provide a permanent fix to the broken process of reviewing and implementing ozone standards."
In an email, John Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, blasted Pruitt's decision as "flagrantly illegal," adding that a court challenge is certain.
"Mere days after telling Americans and the world that the United States will abandon the Paris agreement on climate change to get 'back to basics,'" Walke said, "Trump's EPA is attacking a right as basic as Americans' right to breathe safe air, free from unhealthy smog pollution."