American Coatings Association

EPA Retracts Ozone Implementation Delay; Legislation Still in Play


On Aug. 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it was withdrawing the one-year extension of the ozone implementation deadline for the ozone national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) promulgated in October 2015. On June 6, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt notified governors that states would have an additional year to comply with the NAAQS for ozone promulgated in October 2015. Due to the EPA retraction, the deadline for EPA to issue designations is once again October 1, 2017. States will have three years after EPA issues designations to submit attainment plans, which contain control strategies that could include new or more stringent volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations.

In its June 6 announcement of the one-year extension, EPA said that it was giving states more time to develop air quality plans, and the agency is looking at providing greater flexibility to states as they develop their plans.

While the EPA extension is retracted, there is still federal legislation in play that would delay implementation of the 2015-set national ozone standards to 2025. On July 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 806, Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, which would do just that. The legislation, which ACA supported, passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 229-199. It now heads to the Senate for consideration, where a related measure, S.263, is pending.

The bill, if enacted, would give EPA an additional eight years to determine which areas of the country do not meet the 70 parts per billion ozone standards set in 2015. The measure also would extend from every five years to every 10 years the requirement for EPA to review and, if necessary, update the NAAQS) for ozone and other pollutants.

EPA, in October 2015, lowered the National Ozone Standard from 0.75 parts per million (ppm) to 0.70 ppm. However, EPA’s final rule on the ozone standard is forcing a significant number of states that are currently “in attainment” to “non-attainment” status, triggering a requirement to revise their State Implementation Plans and adopt even stricter VOC emission regulations for coatings. This triggering event is being realized as ozone monitors across the country are demonstrating a marked improvement in air quality under the 2008 standard of 0.75 ppm.

“Our nation has worked hard to reduce ozone levels and improve air quality,” said bill sponsor, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas). “As we continue this progress, we need to give states better tools to meet air quality goals efficiently. As we work to keep this trend moving in the right direction, my bill provides needed flexibility so that states and localities can adequately achieve new, lower standards with time for compliance. Health remains the first priority in setting standards and giving our local officials the tools they need make the Clean Air Act work. I’m proud that this common sense bill received bipartisan support in the House and I urge the Senate to act quickly as well.”

ACA has long advocated for a two-step solution to this problem, most recently in comments submitted to EPA and the Department of Commerce as part of the regulatory reform review mandated by Executive Order 13777, Enforcing the Regulatory Agenda. ACA has suggested that, 1) EPA should revert to the 2008 standard of 0.75 ppm and fully implement this standard so that the forward progress already achieved can be extended without unnecessarily burdening the paint industry with increased standards and costs for many years to come; and 2) EPA should amend the Clean Air Act Regulations to extend the time for review of the ozone standard to every 10 years. Currently, the Act requires a review every five (5) years. ACA noted that extending the review of the ozone standard to every 10 years will allow for more stability in the marketplace for formulators while still protecting human health and the environment.

When announcing its implementation delay in June, EPA acknowledged that although the new ozone standard was set on October 1, 2015, there remain a host of complex issues that could undermine associated compliance efforts by states and localities. The agency says it is evaluating these issues, and is primarily focused on:

  • fully understanding the role of background ozone levels;
  • appropriately accounting for international transport; and
  • timely consideration of exceptional events demonstrations.

Since 1980, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have dropped by 63 percent, and ozone levels have declined by 33 percent. Despite the continued improvement of air quality, costs associated with compliance of the ozone NAAQS have significantly increased.

In the coatings industry, specifically, VOC emissions from architectural coatings have drastically decreased over the last few decades, even while the use of architectural coatings has increased over the same period nationwide. California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District estimates that VOCs from architectural coatings in the Los Angeles area — the air basin with the most severe air quality issues in the country — decreased by over 50 percent between 2008 and 2014. Consequently, more than 90 percent of architectural coatings sales in the United States are now for environmentally preferable water-based paint.

Contact ACA’s Heidi McAuliffe for more information.