(Wyoming Public Media, November 26) – New regulations designed to combat smog could leave hundreds of counties in the United States out of compliance with federal air quality standards, including up to eight in Wyoming.
Ozone is the main contributor to smog, which is tied to a variety of health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to lower the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to between 60 and 70 ppb. The agency says that will make people healthier and prevent thousands of premature deaths, but many in industry are concerned about the cost, which the EPA estimates would be between $4 and $15 billion each year.
“It’s a difficult problem, it’s one that we’re not really sure how it’s going to affect us at this point,” said John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “We’ve done some tremendous things in Pinedale and I’m just not sure what effect it will have on other production areas in the state.”
Pinedale is in Sublette County, which has been out of compliance for several years, in part because of oil and gas activity. Jon Goldstein, with the Environmental Defense Fund, says strategies developed there for reducing ozone are cost-effective.
“It would make a lot of sense, we think, for the state to look at that playbook that they established in Sublette and start to roll it out on more of a statewide basis,” he said.
State officials say it’s not that easy. Keith Guille is with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. He says each county’s situation is different and will have to be evaluated independently depending on the number the EPA ultimately settles on.
“You can’t just say, ‘well, we’re going to tackle ozone,’ you have to tackle the emissions that lead to ozone,” he said, pointing out that ozone emissions are caused not just by oil and gas, but also vehicles and power plants, among other things.
States out of compliance with the ozone rule face fines and the potential loss of highway funding.
The EPA is asking for public comment on the rule. It’s expected to be finalized by June of 2015.