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In the News

Proposed Ozone Standards Pose a Challenge for Central Texas

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Proposed new national ground-level ozone standards put Central Texas at risk of being designated a “nonattainment” area by 2017. However, ongoing regional air quality planning efforts could make the difference in preserving the region’s attainment status. On Nov. 26, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed tightening the “primary” ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to between 65-70 ppb to protect public health and welfare. Ozone levels in Central Texas are currently within the range proposed by EPA for the standards.

While ozone levels in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties — continue to improve, progress may not occur quickly enough to remain in compliance under the proposed standards. If EPA sets the new primary ozone standard at the lowest end of its proposed range –65 ppb – current projections indicate that continuing and strengthening the region’s emission reduction program will be necessary to stay in attainment.

If EPA designates Central Texas “nonattainment” for ground-level ozone, which might occur by October 2017, there could be significant economic impacts for the region. New regulations could restrict industrial expansion, delay funding for roadway construction, and increase the cost of doing business throughout the region. The regulatory consequences of a nonattainment designation could last for 25-40 years.

Ongoing regional air quality planning efforts are led by the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition (CAC), which consists of local elected officials from all five counties in the Austin-Round Rock MSA. They have developed a series of voluntary emission reduction plans that have helped the region remain in attainment of EPA’s air quality standards following the last two revisions to the ground-level ozone standards.

These nationally-recognized efforts are supported by local businesses, government entities, and nonprofit organizations, as well as state programs designed to reduce local emissions. Regarding the challenge the region may face addressing the proposed standards, CAC Chair and outgoing Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said, “Central Texans should be very proud of the efforts our region has successfully pursued, and will continue to pursue, in order to stay in attainment of national ozone standards. Continued collaboration will help ensure the best possible protection for public health and protection against costs arising from a possible nonattainment designation.” The region’s planning efforts earned the CAC the EPA’s Clean Air Excellence Award for Community Engagement in 2014.

High ozone levels can cause breathing problems, particularly for children, seniors, and people who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. High ozone can also cause damage to plants and reduce growth rates for vegetation. Many countries have set ozone standards similar to what EPA has proposed, although implementation methods vary. For comparison, Canada has set its ozone standard at 65 ppb; the European Union ozone standard is 60 ppb; the United Kingdom has an ozone standard of 50 ppb.

> Discover more about the region's air quality.
Download CAPCOG's - EPA Ozone Standard Fact Sheet.

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