Do You Breathe Air? Why You Should Care About New Ozone Standards

Guest Blog | September 29, 2015 | Coal, Energy Policy

On October 1, 2015, EPA released its updated ozone standards. The new standards require an ozone concentration of 70 parts per billion (ppb), lowered from the previous 75 ppb standard. For more information, please visit the EPA’s website

Do you breathe air? If you answered yes, then you should care about the soon-to-be-released updated ozone regulations. If you answered no, then I’m glad to learn there really is life after death!  All joking aside, the Environmental Protection Agency is under a court order to release updated ozone regulations October 1st that will further strengthen these important public health safeguards, meaning more clean air to breathe.

Ground-level ozone is created when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with each other in the air. NOx and VOCs are primarily emitted from industrial facilities, power plants and vehicle exhausts. Exposure to ground-level ozone can harm the respiratory system, aggravate asthma and other lung diseases and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. These health effects are most dangerous to people with asthma, children, the elderly, and those who are active outdoors, especially outdoor workers. 

EPA released the new ozone standards as a draft last year, proposing to lower the current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to either a 70 ppb or 65 ppb standard.  Much has been made of the cost of these regulations, as is the industry habit with new air regulations aimed at protecting public health. The benefits of the new ozone standard, no matter which option is chosen, far outweigh the costs – as pointed out by EPA in its analysis and fact sheet. A new 70 ppb standard would cost industry around $3.9 billion while the health benefits from reduced ozone levels would be anywhere from $6.4 billion to $13 billion. 

Additionally, the new standards would be attainable for most areas of the country, including in coal-heavy states like the Southeast. EPA created an interactive map showing air quality projections for the year 2025, which shows that most areas will be in compliance with the new standards without taking additional action to reduce emissions. All in all only 9 counties (excluding California) are projected to violate a 70 ppb standard, with 68 counties (excluding CA) projected to violate a 65 ppb standard. [Note: Due to the California’s unique combination of adverse meteorological and topographical attributes, population growth and pollution burden associated with mobile sources like cars and trucks, California has different standards to meet for ozone.]

Once the new standards are set, EPA must designate areas as either meeting the standard (attainment areas) or failing to meet the standard (nonattainment areas). EPA may also designate an area as “unclassifiable” if there is not enough information to make an attainment determination. States make the initial determination of attainment and submit those to EPA, which reviews and offers any modifications based on its own air quality analysis. EPA will release the final attainment classifications by October 1, 2017. Depending on the severity of an area’s ozone problem, states will have to comply with the standards starting anywhere from 2020-2037.

Current Nonattainment Areas Based on Current 2008 Ozone Standard


We will know more about what the new ozone standards mean for our region once the rule comes out on October 1st.  One thing, however, is sure – we will all be breathing easier once these rules go into effect!




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