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In the News

Ozone nonattainment: What’s at stake for the region?

Monday, November 26, 2012

With another ozone season over, greater Austin has notched a fourth consecutive year of keeping in step with federal ozone standards. The region has even become the state’s largest metropolitan area for which pollution levels measured by local monitors are indicating compliance with all federal air quality standards.

The challenge? Staying compliant in the face of potentially tighter ozone standards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering for 2014. Without a substantial reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions by 2015, the region could find itself afoul of revised federal standards, significantly impacting regional economic development and transportation planning.

> Get to know the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition

EPA must review selected federal air quality standards every five years for potential science-based changes that could further protect human health, says CAPCOG Air Quality Manager Bill Gill. With new proposed ozone standards expected next year and finalized in 2014, preliminary communications from EPA’s Science Advisory Committee indicate some members believe the research supports significantly tightening the standards.

If an area is designated “nonattainment,” or in violation of federal ozone standards, the state must then adopt a plan to bring the area into attainment, including a series of mandatory emission-control measures. After reviewing the plan, EPA may approve it or reject and replace it.

A nonattainment designation would mean that local jurisdictions that have led the effort to comply with federal ozone standards over the last 12 years would no longer be the primary decision-makers selecting air quality strategies. Instead, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA would assume that role.

> Learn about CAPCOG's federal grant to curb diesel pollution

The consequences of being designated a nonattainment area are significant. New or expanding industrial facilities would face significant hurdles to growth, including requirements for emission offsets and highly stringent emission standards. Many emissions sources, including some small businesses, would also likely be required to retrofit their equipment to reduce pollution, significantly raising the costs of operating businesses within the region. For 25 years, the region also would be subject to “conformity,” a process requiring that local and regional transportation plans be limited to projects that keep emissions within allowable limits. To gain EPA and Federal Highway Administration approval, new transportation projects may need to restrict the projected amount of vehicle activity.

Local governments have a crucial chance to implement their own ozone-reduction strategies. Doing so will not only help jurisdictions maintain more local control but also help protect the health of Central Texans, especially more vulnerable populations such as children, seniors and people with chronic respiratory problems. With research and other tools, CAPCOG aims to continue assisting local governments in this important initiative.

> Explore CAPCOG's Air Quality Program

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