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Colorado Lawmakers Want to Halt Tougher Federal Ozone Standard

State legislators spoke out against new, more stringent federal ozone standards as a prelude to a stakeholder meeting held Thursday in Denver by Colorado air pollution officials who are focused on implementing the older, 2008 ozone standard by 2017. Government and business officials in the state are lined up strongly opposed to the tougher requirement.

With either standard -- 75 parts-per-billion (ppb) or the new 70 ppb -- Colorado will have only one nonattainment area, the Denver-North Front Range region, an official with the state Department of Public Health and the Environment (DPHE) told NGI on Thursday.

On a bipartisan basis, state senators have urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt implementation of the more stringent ozone standard given the issue in the West of "background" ozone that can contaminate given regions while emanating from areas outside of the state or region.

"The whole situation is a mess, and EPA officials did an abysmal job with the prior standard of 75 ppb," said state Sen. Cheri Jahn, a Democrat, while her Republican colleague Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg said he has always opposed the stricter EPA ozone standards because of "the control [they] will give federal bureaucrats over basic planning decisions here in Colorado."

Going back to early last year, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and groups such as the business community-based Center for Regulatory Solutions (CRS) have advocated against a tougher ozone standard. COGA sent a 12-page letter EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in March last year, and the CRS published a report last August advocating "slamming the brakes" on the federal ozone plan because of its alleged adverse economic impact on Colorado.

COGA told McCarthy that EPA has not "meaningfully considered" western background ozone issues that would preclude attainment of a lower standard in many areas of Colorado, and failed to obtain the statutorily required range of critical information from the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

Comments and recommendations to EPA will continue this year until the next deadline set by the federal agency of Oct. 1, according to the state DPHE official, who noted that Colorado now is working to complete its state implementation plan (SIP) for the 2008 75 ppb ozone standard for implementation next year. "We think that will put us in a good position to begin looking at complying with the [more stringent] 2015 standard," he said.

Currently, the tougher standard has been finalized, and Colorado at this point is not planning to challenge it formally, although the elected officials are clearly not happy with it. "Under the federal Clean Air Act, I am unaware of any tools available to suspend the implementation of the new standard," the DPHE official said.

"We have been clear in comments to EPA that the issue of background ozone is critically important in the West, and it is important that we better understand the causes and contributors to background ozone so we can make informed decisions about cause-effect strategies."

The issue has been "elevated across the western states" to EPA, and the federal agency has taken notice, said the DPHE official, noting there was a workshop in Phoenix, AZ, earlier this year on the issue and there is much ongoing research at the state level. "There is a lot of ongoing modeling and analysis of data," he said

Colorado recently completed the Front Range Air Pollution and Photochemical Experiment (FRAPPE), a series of air quality measurements to better inform us and others on contributions of emissions from other places that may be adding to higher ozone levels in the state.

Colorado and other states will make recommendations to EPA on the new standard by Oct. 1 this year, identifying the areas that won't meet the 70 ppb standard. For Colorado, this will only be the Denver-Front Range area. "The good news is that we don't expect the new standard to lead to any new nonattainment areas in Colorado; however, the new standard does heighten the challenge in meeting the new standard in the existing nonattainment area," the DPHE official said.

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