The U.S. Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) recent announcement of a new ozone standard of 75 parts-per-billion (ppb) raises many questions about federal-state responsibilities. Through promulgation and enforcement of federal ozone standards, EPA holds enormous power over the state, but the federal process makes it impossible for the state to succeed, wastes billions of state dollars, and frustrates efficient air quality improvement.

First promulgated in 1997, EPA did not begin legal implementation of the then “new” 85-ppb standard until 2004. Less than a month after the state, in May 2007, finalized its regulatory plan to meet this new 85-ppb standard, EPA proposed another ‘new’ and far more stringent standard. Now, before EPA even has even approved the state’s current plans, it finalized this new 75-ppb standard.

The EPA rules of the game constantly change, the standard continually ratchets upward, and the time frames are totally unrealistic. EPA imposed state deadlines on the 85-ppb standard before they finalized the rules states must follow to comply. It’s like a due date on a bill which is earlier than the date the invoice is mailed.

Texas has made far more progress in improving ozone levels than most other states. And onerous, costly regulations – for which all Texans have paid, one way or another – have played a major role in our success. At this point, emissions from mobile sources like cars and trucks produce the majority of ozone emissions. In the D/FW area, mobile sources account for more than 75% of relevant emissions. Even in the industrial Houston/Galveston area, mobile sources account for the majority. EPA, not the state, has regulatory jurisdiction over these mobile sources.

EPA must not merely impose authority and threaten sanctions on Texas. Rather, it must assume its responsibility to address mobile sources and establish a realistic process for states.

– Kathleen Hartnett White