The National Ambient Air Quality Standard (“NAAQS”) for ozone established by the EPA under the Bush administration was challenged by a coalition of environmental and health advocacy groups, and is currently the subject of pending litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. EPA has now requested that the briefing schedule in that case be suspended for six months, in order for the new administration to review the existing ozone NAAQS and determine whether revision is warranted.
In March of 2008, EPA tightened the ozone NAAQS from 84 ppb to 75 ppb. The pending lawsuit followed. In it, the environmental and health advocacy group plaintiffs have argued for a stricter standard, claiming that EPA ignored the recommendation of its own scientific advisory panel, which called for a limit of 70 ppb. Industry opposed the lawsuit, and has taken the position that the 75 ppb standard is in fact supported by science, and anything more stringent would be unattainable by many cities, particularly in light of the current economic crisis. Compliance with a more stringent ozone standard will present challenges to electric utilities as well, as further cuts to nitrogen oxide emissions will be required.
The fact that EPA has now asked for time to review the current standard indicates that the Agency may issue more stringent standards. In that event, the pending lawsuit would likely be dismissed as moot. The court has not yet ruled on EPA’s request for additional time.