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EPA: northern Front Range has “serious” ozone problem

December 26, 2019 | Local News

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Tuesday that it is finalizing a determination to reclassify the Denver Metro area and North Front Range ozone nonattainment area, which includes Berthoud, from Moderate to Serious nonattainment under the Clean Air Act.

“EPA is taking this action based on monitoring data showing that ozone remains a challenge in Denver and northern Front Range communities,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “We thank our partners at the State of Colorado in working with EPA to strengthen air quality plans and implement these measures to further reduce ozone-forming emissions from sources across the region.”

The Denver and norther Front Range area has been classified as a Moderate nonattainment area for the 2008 ozone 8-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard since 2016. Based on an evaluation of air quality data collected from 2015 to 2017, EPA has determined the Denver Metro/Northern Front Range nonattainment area did not meet the standard within the timeframe established for 2008 Moderate ozone nonattainment areas. Under the Clean Air Act, areas that do not attain national ozone standards in a timely manner are reclassified to a higher nonattainment status, in this case from Moderate to Serious.

The EPA accepted public comment on a proposal to reclassify the Denver Metro/Northern Front Range nonattainment area to serious nonattainment beginning on Aug. 15 and held a public hearing at the agency’s regional office in Denver on Sept. 6.

Areas with a downgraded status are required to submit a State Implementation Plan (SIP) which is set into motion by a set of enforceable rules and programs for non-attainment areas to reach attainment status as soon as possible, and adopt new categories of controls, or reasonably available control technologies, on emissions sources, but in no more than five years, based on the severity of the air pollution and the difficulty posed by obtaining cleaner air. In general, when the EPA finds a violation has occurred, the agency can issue an order requiring the violator to comply, issue an administrative penalty up to $37,500 per day, or sue the violator in court.  

Some requirements would be effective as soon as this action is finalized, such as a lower threshold for permitting large sources like motor-vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents. The proposal would set a new deadline of July 20, 2021, for the Denver and the Front Range area to attain the 2008 ozone standards.

According to research done by the EPA, the top three contributors to greenhouse gases comprise 34% electric generation, 22% vehicles of all sizes, and 15% industry. The CAA sets air-quality standards for six common pollutants; including carbon monoxide and ground-level ozone – a primary component of smog, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The pollutants can harm individual’s health as well as the environment, and cause property damage. Particle pollution and ground-level ozone are the most widespread health threats. Ozone affects the lungs and can make preexisting health issues like asthma and chronic bronchitis worse.

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