Hearings - Testimony
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change, and Nuclear Safety
Implementation of the Existing Particulate Matter and Ozone Air Quality Standards
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Sam Olens
Chairman, Cobb County Board of Commissioners, Marietta, Georgia

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Sam Olens, Chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). I am testifying today on behalf of the ARC. The ARC is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for 18 counties within the 20+ county Atlanta eight-hour ozone and fine particulate matter nonattainment areas. As such, ARC has primary responsibility under the Clean Air Act for ensuring transportation conformity provisions are met through development of regional transportation plans and programs that support clean and healthy air for all of our region’s citizens. I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide our perspectives regarding implementation of new air quality standards in the Atlanta region.

Atlanta has a long history of nonattainment; primarily with the older one-hour ozone standard and more recently with the revised eight-hour ozone standard and new fine particulate matter standard (PM2.5). Over the past 15 years, since Atlanta was first designated as nonattainment under the one-hour ozone standard, we have made significant progress in improving regional air quality. This resulted in attainment of the one-hour ozone standard in 2004 – something that many people doubted could be achieved in a high-growth region like ours. And the levels of ozone have remained low through 2005 (reference Attachment 1 – Number of Ozone Violation Days).

Our state air quality agency, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, was able to put together a regional air quality plan that enabled us to meet the one-hour ozone standard by 2004 due to the following:

· A better understanding of ozone pollution and emission control measures through improved science;
· Concerted effort in the region to implement effective, innovative pollution control measures; and
· Improved intergovernmental and interagency relationships between the various organizations that have a role in ensuring clean air in our state and in our region.

At the same time, the ARC has maintained a positive transportation conformity status for our transportation plan and program since our two-year conformity lapse in the late 90’s.

These successes have occurred in spite of unprecedented growth, numerous legal challenges, and implementation of new air quality standards and provisions that have greatly impacted our planning process.

Although we have made significant progress, in Atlanta we continue to actively work towards implementation of the new ozone and particulate matter standards. Twenty counties in our region are designated as nonattainment under the eight-hour ozone standard. These same counties, plus a portion of two others, are also designated nonattainment under the PM2.5 standard. We continue to deal with a number of significant issues related to air quality planning requirements for both the new air quality standards and the previous one-hour ozone standard, in particular as they impact transportation conformity.

In Atlanta we continue to deal with the very significant concern regarding the Clean Air Act requirement to implement Federal Reformulated Gasoline (RFG). RFG is a provision of our reclassification to Severe nonattainment status under the one-hour ozone standard. Technical analysis has shown that this fuel blend would actually contribute to an increase in emissions over our existing Georgia gasoline which is tailored to meet our unique air pollution needs. The ARC, along with our state air quality agency, has requested legislative relief from this requirement (reference Attachment II – Memo: Federal RFG Impact on the Atlanta Area, Attachment III – Resolution by the ARC Requesting Legislative Relief and a Time Extension from Federal RFG Requirements). Although the one-hour standard has been revoked as of June 15, 2005, and the requirement to implement this fuel blend is currently stayed by the courts, examples such as this create uncertainty in the modeling process, inconsistency in the planning process, and make it very difficult to develop an accurate emissions inventory.

Similarly, we continue to deal with continued, habitual delay in release of rules and guidance documents that direct implementation of new standards. Much of the burden of implementing new standards could be alleviated if we ensured that rulemaking and guidance is provided in a timely manner. The efforts of MPOs and States who are trying to meet statutory deadlines for conformity, attainment, etc. must be recognized. These deadlines are fixed by law, yet dates to receive rules and guidance continually slip months, even years, past promised timeframes. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as we continue to implement the new standards. Some specific examples related to rulemaking delay are listed below.

· Transportation conformity is required within one year of a nonattainment designation. Transportation conformity guidance related to the revised 8-hour ozone standard was released in July 2004 with conformity determinations required by June 2005. Guidance related to emissions inventory development for PM2.5 was released in August 2005 with conformity analyses pending April 2006. While it may appear that this still leaves enough time for areas to complete the conformity determination process, it is not. EPA is not sensitive to the significant time and resources it takes to develop a transportation plan and program, complete a conformity analysis, and have everything reviewed and approved by multiple agencies. Guidance needs to be provided on or before nonattainment status designations to allow areas time to prepare for and implement conformity requirements.
· Attainment plans are due within three years of nonattainment designation. For eight-hour ozone, designations were made June 2004. Air quality plans are due by June 2007. Phase II of the eight-hour ozone implementation rule that deals with State Implementation Plan development has been delayed well over a year after nonattainment area designations. This rule directs air quality plan development and is not yet available in final form for state air quality agencies.

I have included in our written submittal some additional detail related to the issues we are dealing with in Atlanta as we transition to these new standards from a transportation conformity perspective (reference Attachment IV – Implementing the New Air Quality Standards in Atlanta, Presentation at the National Association of Regional Councils 38th Annual Conference, June 2004).

There has been a great deal of concern expressed related to implementation of the new ozone and particulate matter standards, in particular that the deadlines to meet the standards are too short and that the Clean Air Act should be amended to provide more time to attain. These concerns become even greater in the context of the current review and potential tightening of the particulate matter standard that is only now at the beginning stages of implementation. The ARC shares many of the concerns, as implementation of new standards will always require a change to our process, additional (and often significant) resource expenditures, and additional complexity to an already complicated transportation planning process. However, while we recognize that there are tough air quality standards in place and that they do have a considerable impact on the planning process, we also acknowledge that these standards are based on good science and health data and are in place for a reason and, as such, need to be addressed in a timely manner. Furthermore, we see many of the issues that we are dealing with as external to the primary issue of attainment deadlines and, as such, can be dealt with within existing law.

In Georgia, we are not hearing from our state air quality agency that attainment deadlines associated with the new standards are a concern. It is, in fact, probably too soon to tell if we will have an issue with meeting attainment deadlines as modeling for these standards has only just begun. If we are hearing anything, it is that we need to address these standards in a timely manner. Atlanta is an area experiencing tremendous growth. With approximately 4 million people living in the region today and an expected 2.3 million more people projected to move to the region in the next 25 years, we are dealing with an incredibly large population that is breathing unhealthy air. Our state air agency understands that nonattainment status has a major impact on growth and economic development. Our unprecedented growth translates to both a larger population being exposed to unhealthy air and significantly increased health and other economic costs for the region. The longer we delay implementation of these health-based standards, the longer we pay these costs.

For the newer ozone and particulate matter standards, the deadlines and mandates we have to plan for and implement are not unreasonable. We are on the right track with our current planning and modeling to develop effective air quality plans and regional pollution controls needed to attain. If we find in this planning that we need more time to attain the standard(s), there are currently provisions in existing law and rules that provide a way for us to do this without threatening transportation planning or funding (e.g., for ozone through reclassification or for particulate matter through the opportunity to add five years to the attainment deadline, up to 2015, if the state can prove such an extension is warranted).

Currently, our concern in Georgia is not our pending attainment deadlines, but ensuring we have the support at the national level to meet these deadlines. This includes providing rules and guidance in a timely manner and, most importantly, ensuring that we maintain the flexibility and control needed to implement pollution control measures that work best for our region. Our region must have the ability to implement innovative, proactive measures to improve our air quality. The more tools and options we have the better. Senator Voinovich has already shown great leadership in this area through introduction of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2005, a program that will provide substantial funding through national and state-level loans and grants to voluntarily retrofit existing diesel engines to improve air quality and protect public health. This legislation is a perfect example of providing nonattainment areas the opportunity and the flexibility that they need to design programs to fit their own unique needs. This is EXACTLY what we need in an area like Atlanta and where our focus needs to be.

I will end with a few comments related to the potential revision of the fine particulate matter standard. The timing of this review/revision is of particulate concern for Atlanta. Currently the EPA is reviewing the particulate matter standard as required by the Clean Air Act, and will revise the standard if needed based on more current health data. EPA is currently finishing that review and is to recommend action on the standard by end of the year with a final standard proposed by late 2006. If a new fine particulate standard is promulgated by EPA according to this timeline, it will confuse not only the public, but our decision makers, and potentially divert staff attention from our current efforts to meet the existing PM2.5 standard. While promulgating a new standard is a very time consuming process that will occur over the course of several years, it requires staff attention in the interim and serves as an additional resource drain as we work towards implementing the current standard. I am assured by our state air quality partners, however, that because this process will overlap our present planning effort, that ongoing planning related to our existing fine particulate matter standard will be applicable to any newer, more stringent standard.

In Atlanta we are growing accustomed to the changing face of our region. We have accepted and are actively preparing for the challenges that our projected growth will bring. At the same time, we acknowledge that environmental standards play a very important role in how we deal with this growth. We accept that they have become more stringent over time and may continue to become tighter in the future. While updates to any air quality standard can be complicated and will carry its own challenges, we trust that any update is based on a technically rigorous process that is vetted through a strong scientific review. If indeed standards are strengthened to improve public health, they will be incorporated into the long-range planning processes that are managed by the ARC and the State in a timely manner. To ensure that new standards are implemented efficiently, however, we must have support from our federal partners in providing us effective guidance and the means by which to meet clean air standards in a manner suitable to our own unique region.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, the ARC looks forward to working with you and others as we, collectively, work to implement air quality standards that protect our citizens from poor air quality. Once again, on behalf of the ARC, I thank you for this opportunity to present our views on implementation of the new air quality standards.

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