If a new, expected stricter ozone standard had been in place last month, the five-parish Baton Rouge area and numerous areas in Louisiana likely would have been out of compliance, state officials and environmentalists said.
However, President Barack Obama recently released a statement that said he was asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
“Work is already under way to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered,” the president’s statement read.
Obama’s announcement on Sept. 2 received praise from some, like Sen. David Vitter, R-La. who released a statement that said the stricter ozone standards, “would have placed a substantial burden on job-creating industries in Louisiana and across the country.”
Ozone is a pollution that forms when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from car exhaust, industrial activities and other sources combine in the air during hot and sunny days. When there isn’t much wind, the ozone pollution can accumulate and cause health problems.
Environmental groups criticized the president’s announcement and said the delay hurts people with health issues like asthma.
“As we are going through this process, the vulnerable populations are the ones who will continue to be impacted,” said Wilma Subra, an environmental chemist and member of Louisiana Environmental Action Network. She said she was hoping the standard would have been lowered from 75 parts per billion to 65 ppb “soon.”
The details on the next steps in ozone pollution regulations are uncertain now that Obama withdrew a new draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard, said Tim Bergeron, environmental chemical specialist with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality,
In the absence of a new standard, the one of 75 ppb put in place in 2008 remains. Also, the EPA has not made official declarations of which parts of the country, including Louisiana, meet the standard and which ones that do not meet the standard. These designations are needed for State Implementation Plans and for attainment deadlines to meet the standard.
Bergeron explained that after the 2008 lowering of the standard to 75 ppb, the state submitted its recommendations of which areas would meet the standard — and which ones would not meet the standard — in 2009.
The next step would have been an official ruling from EPA that would designate areas based on how badly those areas were out of compliance which would then guide what actions the state would require from industry or other sources of ozone-causing pollution, Bergeron said.
“The worse your classification, the more stringent it (the requirement) is,” he said.
That official declaration was going to be made in March 2010, but before that could happen EPA was asked to reconsider the standard, Bergeron said.
The standard is measured by taking the fourth-highest daily 8-hour average of ozone concentrations and averaging three years of that information. To meet the standard, every monitor must be at 75 ppb or lower.
Originally, in 2009, the state’s recommendation to EPA had most of the state above the 75 ppb level and, therefore, out of compliance. When the state redid the calculations for 2010, the recommendation changed and only one monitor in the five-parish Baton Rouge area — East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston parishes — was out of compliance.
Although the current ozone season isn’t over, there are six parishes with air monitors over the 75 ppb based on averages from 2009, 2010 and 2011. Those parishes are East Baton Rouge; Ascension; Iberville; Jefferson; Bossier; and Calcasieu, Bergeron said.