New United States Environmental Protection Agency Ozone Standard Challenging for California Non-Attainment Areas
On October 1st, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone, lowering the standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb. Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between ozone precursors, such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Air basins with ambient ozone concentrations exceeding NAAQS are designated as nonattainment. Regulatory restrictions of NOx and VOC emissions are required for areas designated as nonattainment, until ozone concentrations decrease to levels below the NAAQS.
California has unique challenges in addressing ozone pollution. Air basins surrounded by mountains and a generally warm climate combine to make many areas of the state conductive to ozone formation. In addition, the state’s 39 million residents, ports, agricultural areas, and wildfires result in high levels of NOx emissions. Due to these challenges, many areas of California are designated as nonattainment of the current (75 ppb) ozone standard, including the Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin, which is classified as “Extreme” nonattainment.
The updated standard will make it more difficult for areas already in nonattainment to achieve attainment. In order for these areas to meet the updated standards, the state and EPA have recognized that large-scale change is needed in the transportation industry. Transition to largely zero or near-zero emission vehicle technologies and a significant turnover of the legacy fleet of vehicles will be required to lower ground-level ozone to below 70 ppb. NOx and VOC emission restrictions are already in place for all areas in nonattainment of the 75 ppb ozone standard. The revised standard may increase or extend these emission restrictions.
The revised ozone standards will also bring additional areas into nonattainment. The following counties in California had 2012-2014 Ozone Design Values between 71 and 75 ppb: Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Orange, San Luis Obispo, Sutter, Tehama, and Tuolumne. EPA plans to designate attainment and nonattainment areas in late 2017. Nonattainment status may result in additional NOx and VOC emission restrictions for these counties.
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