Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced a bill on Thursday under which state, local, and tribal governments may develop Early Action Compact (EAC) plans to achieve and maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone.

“I’m concerned that the EPA will simply set an air quality standard for ozone that is unattainable for many Western states,” Hatch said. “This bipartisan legislation directs the EPA to implement a program that allows local communities to enter into voluntary cooperative agreements with the EPA to utilize locally crafted solutions to improve air quality so that they can comply with federal standards.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week plans to hold a hearing on the Obama administration’s air agenda that will spotlight ozone.

In the House, Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) yesterday requested documents from the Obama administration related to review of the standard.

Background

On November 26, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone. If finalized, the proposal would set more stringent standards, lowering both the primary (health-based) and secondary (welfare-based) standards from the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere in a range of 65 to 70 ppb. EPA faces an October 1 court-ordered deadline to finalize a new standard. EPA’s final limit is currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Regardless of a change to the standard, many areas throughout the country are at risk of being designated as areas that are in “non-attainment” under the NAAQS.

In 2002, EPA initiated a program called the Early Action Compact (EAC) Program to make available an option that allowed for these areas to enter into a voluntary cooperative agreement with EPA to take early action to prevent a non-attainment designation and provide for cleaner air sooner than might have occurred by otherwise following the timelines in the Clean Air Act.

Thirteen of  the 14 areas that voluntarily opted into this program were successful in improving air quality and avoiding a non-attainment designation entirely. However, courts later found that EPA was outside its authority under the Clean Air Act to implement such a program and after that first wave from 2002-2007, EPA was not able to continue the program.

This legislation, without amending the Clean Air Act, would give clear authorization and direct the EPA to implement a similar program to the EAC so that other areas throughout the country can again have the option of taking early action to improve air quality and avoid a non-attainment designation.