A Clean Air Act rule unveiled last week may mean that some chemical plants will have to curtail their emissions. It may also limit the ability of facilities to expand or make operational changes that increase emissions.
EPA's April 15 rule says that about 100 urban areas, including 474 counties, are nonattainment areas, meaning that they fail to meet the nation's air quality standard for ground-level ozone. That standard, which defines how much ozone is unhealthy, was set in 1997, but its implementation was delayed by legal challenges. It toughens a national ozone benchmark set in 1979 but gives areas more time to clean up their air.
Under the new rule, nonattainment areas for the ozone standard will have to reduce emissions from existing sources before any new facilities or expansions can get air pollution permits. This will be particularly tough in metropolitan areas that for years have had strict emission standards under the 1979 ozone standard, says S. William Becker, executive director of groups representing state and local air pollution control officials.
Environmental activists say the new rule gives communities far too much time to clean up their air. "The real beneficiaries," says Angela Ledford, director of Clear the Air, "are corporate polluters."
The American Chemistry Council says implementation of the rule "should be made in a way that won't further exacerbate the nation's natural gas crisis."