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EPA seeks more information on overdue ozone designations

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EPA seeks more information on overdue ozone designations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking more information from certain states on their suggested designations for the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and will take the unusual step of opening a public comment period to collect feedback.

In a Dec. 22 press release, the EPA announced the latest move in its effort to declare which states are not meeting the 2015 ozone standard. The EPA said letters have been sent to states that did not receive an attainment designation in a November release, seeking further details on their previously submitted recommendations. States will have 120 days to provide more information on their suggested designations for "certain areas where further analysis and dialogue may be needed." A 30-day public comment period also will be opened, even though that step is not required, the EPA said.

"While the EPA is in agreement with the recommendations for most areas, the EPA indicated that in some instances it intended to modify a state or tribal [recommendation]," the agency said in a related notice.

Although it did not specifically say what new information the EPA is seeking from states, the release did note concerns about the influence of background ozone and "exceptional events" on the designations. Both of those issues have been raised by opponents of the ozone standards through litigation. As for the public comment period, the EPA requested feedback on any areas that should not be designated as nonattainment, including specific technical information and data.

The EPA said the final designations will be issued no later than April 30, 2018, which would complete the designation process for the 2015 standard. That means the EPA will miss the deadline for issuing all the designations by seven months. A handful of states and environmental and public health groups have filed litigation against the agency for missing the deadline.

After the Oct. 1 deadline passed, the EPA announced the regions of the country that are meeting the 70-parts-per-billion standard. On Dec. 19, a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to submit, by Jan. 12, 2018, a detailed timeline for releasing the remaining designations.

Also in the Dec. 22 release, the agency announced the issuance of a third round of designations for the sulfur dioxide standard, which are similarly regulated through National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The court-ordered release flagged areas in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Guam as in nonattainment. The remaining areas were classified as attainment/unclassifiable or simply unclassifiable. Areas singled out as nonattainment will be required to meet the standard as quickly as possible but no later than five years after the effective date of the designation.