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EPA Lowers Acceptable Level of Ozone: Likely Non-Attainment for SA Area

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October 1, 2015 | 1,039 views | Post a comment

October 1, 2015 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it is lowering the acceptable amount of ground-level ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb, effective with the three year period from 2014 through 2016.

The EPA has updated its air quality standards for ground-level ozone, the Agency said, in response to a careful examination of thousands of studies showing that the 75 ppb standard set in 2008 was not protective enough of human health and ecosystems. The EPA’s decision has some serious implications for the San Antonio metro area.

Despite the voluntary, collective efforts of many area governmental entities, businesses, and individuals to improve our air in anticipation of this change, it has been difficult for the area to remain in compliance even with the less stringent, 2008 standard of 75 ppb. Since 2012, three year averages for ozone in San Antonio have registered higher than that threshold. The current average at the area’s Camp Bullis monitor, based on the years 2013 to 2015, has already topped the threshold at 78 ppb, even though the season when ozone tends to build up in the air is not yet over. Short of an extraordinary effort in which nearly every individual, employer, and other collective entity participates, it is unlikely that the area will attain a three year average of 70 ppb or lower and achieve compliance with the new EPA standard.

Following the three-year evaluation period of 2014 through 2016, a designation of nonattainment would come after a lengthy consideration process that would likely culminate by October 2017. If deemed in nonattainment of the standard set for ozone, the San Antonio area would not be allowed to rely on voluntary measures alone as it currently does, but would be required to adopt mandatory measures to improve our air quality. The area would be placed into one of five categories, based largely on the degree of its threshold violation, for which the regulations would be progressively more arduous.

In the “Marginal” category, in which the regulations would be the least severe, new or expanding manufacturers may be required to secure pollution reductions to offset their proposed growth, and transportation planners may be required to prove that adding capacity to the roadway system would not increase pollution from cars and trucks to qualify for federal highway funds for roadway improvements. At the more stringent “Moderate” level, all the requirements at the Marginal level plus others--such as vehicle emissions inspections--would be made mandatory.

The EPA’s announcement that it will lower the amount of acceptable ozone was not a surprise. The EPA had first announced in 2010 that it would be lowering the standard somewhere within the range of 60 to 70 ppb. Many other countries have also adjusted their standards; for example, Canada reset its fourth highest, 8-hour daily maximum threshold to 63 ppb earlier this year.

The Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Executive Committee (which represents a collective voice concerning air quality for the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) through the composition of its membership[1]), have partnered together in a region-wide strategy to attain the new federal standard for ground-level ozone through the recommendation of voluntary air quality control measures. All control measures identified as appropriate for local government adoption by the Air Improvement Resources (AIR) Executive Committee will be taken to all local counties and municipalities for consideration.

AACOGs Natural Resources Director Brenda Williams said, “Up to this point, the region has relied on the voluntary efforts of several leaders, such as the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy, to improve our air. We can no longer rely on the efforts of such leaders alone. While our government partners have resolved to work in a concerted effort to address our air quality challenge, it is AACOG’s hope that every business in the area, however large or small, will also take steps to help improve the air, whether it be by allowing more flexible scheduling for employees to avoid peak traffic times or by making their offices, shops, or other facilities more energy efficient.”


If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Brenda Williams, please contact her at (210) 362-5246 or
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