EPA Approves State of Texas Clean-Air Plan for Ozone in Houston Area

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved the state of Texas’ clean-air plan for the greater Houston area under the Clean Air Act’s 1979 1-hour and 1997 8-hour ozone standards. EPA determined the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria (HGB) area continues to attain both standards and meets the criteria for ending obligations to prevent the area from “backsliding” in air quality and potentially failing to meet the standards. The state’s clean-air plans for ozone in the HGB area will now address the Clean Air Act’s 2008 and 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

“The greater Houston area is home to many industries that drive not only the local economy, but the state’s and nation’s as well,” said Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “These sectors continue to thrive as ozone pollution levels improve. EPA thanks the hard work of our partners around Houston and at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that made this possible.”

“EPA’s action recognizes the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria area’s significant reductions in ozone pollution during a period of similarly remarkable economic growth,” said Jon Niermann, Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “This action, which should close the chapter on Texas’ attainment of revoked standards, will allow the State to focus its efforts on meeting the current, more-stringent ozone standards.”

Because EPA revoked the 1979 and 1997 standards in 2004 and 2015, respectively, the agency could not pursue the typical process of redesignating the area from nonattainment to attainment of the ozone NAAQS. As an alternative, EPA determined the HGB area met the Clean Air Act’s criteria for redesignation and was therefore eligible to end anti-backsliding measures under the revoked standards. This action effectively removes the state’s obligations for the HGB area under the old standards, with the 2008 and 2015 8-hour ozone standards remaining applicable.

EPA’s action also included approval of an alternative program to collect fees, as required in areas classified as severe or extreme nonattainment that do not meet the attainment deadline. While the Clean Air Act normally requires these fees to come from large facilities that emit ozone-forming chemicals, an alternative fee program could be approved because the relevant standards had been revoked. The approved equivalent alternative program uses fees from vehicle inspections and registrations, which go toward funding the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan and other programs for reducing emissions from mobile sources.

EPA’s final approval was preceded by a proposed approval and 30-day public comment period. The final approval will be published in the Federal Register.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency
Date: Feb 6, 2020