HOUSTON - On Oct. 1 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb nationwide.
The heightened regulation puts numerous counties in Texas in ozone “nonattainment areas” for the first time, and makes it more difficult for counties currently designated as “nonattainment” to meet the standards.
Currently, 18 of the 32 Texas counties monitored from 2012-2014 are currently unable to comply with the new rule, including multiple counties in the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria and Dallas-Fort Worth regions. Bexar and El Paso Counties, which had previously met EPA standards, are now classified as nonattainment.
Businesses operating in these counties will face increased regulation, including the installation of new control technologies and additional monitoring protocol. Additionally, SIP measures could result in legislation changing matters of society that affect individuals, such as lower speed limits, vehicle emission testing, and other transportation restrictions.
According to the EPA, the heightened standard will result in public health benefits between $2.9 billion to $5.9 billion by 2025, with an implementation cost of $1.4 billion.
“The updated standards will improve public health protection, particularly for at-risk groups including children and older adults, people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma, and people who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. They will also improve the health of trees, plants, and ecosystems,” said an EPA statement.
The EPA additionally claims that monitoring ozone levels has resulted in the improvement of more than 90 percent of the areas originally designated as nonattainment in 1997, and that the solution to the nation’s increasing rate of asthma can be found in more stringent ozone regulation.
However, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) questions this claim, arguing that air quality has consistently improved nationwide, which indicates another cause of poor public respiratory health. TCEQ’s chief toxicologist recommends looking to other sources of poor public health, such as indoor air quality.
Implementation of rule, while far-reaching, is not expected to occur for at least five years. The current qualification of “nonattainment” areas is based on outdated data obtained from 2012-2014. Final designations will be based on 2014-2016 data and will be issued by Oct. 2017. State Implementation Plans (SIPS) are due by the end of 2021.