House Approves Ozone Bill

July 18, 2017 – The U.S. House of Representatives approved, by a vote of 229 to 199, H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017.  The bill, introduced on February 1, 2017 by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), has as its stated purpose “[t]o facilitate efficient State implementation of ground-level ozone standards, and for other purposes.”  Among the provisions of the bill are ones to phase in implementation of the 2008 and 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and delay final designations under the 2015 standard until 2025; extend the timeframe for reviewing the NAAQS for any criteria pollutant from every five years to every 10 years; authorize the EPA Administrator to consider technological feasibility as a “secondary consideration” when revising a NAAQS; and allow, until 2025, permits for new and modified industrial facilities to be processed under the less-stringent 2008 ozone NAAQS.  Other provisions of the bill would ensure that for certain ozone and PM nonattainment areas states would not be required to include in their State Implementation Plans measures that are economically infeasible; amend the exclusions from the term “exceptional event” by changing “stagnation of air masses” to “ordinarily occurring stagnation of air masses” and eliminating “a meteorological event involving high temperatures or lack of precipitation”; eliminate the requirement for contingency measures in Extreme ozone nonattainment areas; require EPA to submit two reports to Congress – on the impact of foreign sources of pollution on NAAQS compliance and on ozone formation and effective control strategies; and limit the applicability of certain sanctions and fees in some ozone and PM nonattainment areas if the state demonstrates nonattainment would have been avoided, or attainment achieved, but for emissions that are beyond the state’s control.  Democrats offered six amendments during floor debate: 1) to halt implementation of the Act if the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee finds that implementation could increase health risks to vulnerable populations, 2) to strike provisions to allow EPA to consider technological feasibility when setting NAAQS, 3) to strike changes to existing exceptional events requirements, 4) to close a “loophole” that prevents aggregating emissions from any oil or gas exploration or production well and to require EPA to add hydrogen sulfide to the list of hazardous air pollutants, 5) to strike provisions barring the appropriation of additional funds to carry out the requirements of the Act and 6) to strike the underlying bill and replace it with a grant program to benefit regions with the poorest air quality.  All six amendments failed.  Late last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued an estimate of the cost to implement H.R. 806, based on information from EPA.  CBO has estimated that completing the activities in the bill over the period of 2018 to 2020 would cost $2 million.  Attention now turns to the Senate where S. 263 – a companion to H.R. 806, introduced on February 1, 2017 by Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – is awaiting further action by the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety.  The Subcommittee held a hearing on S. 263 on May 23, 2017, entitled “Making Implementation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ground-Level Ozone Attainable.”